Friday, February 10, 2017

REVIEW: At Coal Mine Theatre SUPERIOR DONUTS is a treat to savour.

Consider if you will, the lowly doughnut: deep fried, delicious, greasy goodness.

Doughnuts and comedy have a few things in common.  The pleasures they offer are often regarded as plebeian, and while both may seem common-place, they are not all that easy to make successfully as anyone who's ever tried their hand at either will tell you.

Tracy Letts has written a very successful comedy, and while some of the strokes may be broad, his hand is skillful and assured.

In Superior Donuts, Letts takes a rueful look at The American Dream:  the promise of prosperity and endless possibilities offered to the huddled masses.  Specifically he's looking at the many ways that dream gets perverted by cowardice and greed and destroyed by casual violence.

In the current political situation to the south of us, Letts offers a gentle meditation on what it means to be an American. This might not sound particularly funny, and the play is not without tragedy, but it offers a lot of joy and it has a big warm heart.

As usual, at Coal Mine, the standard of acting is one of the joys of the production. It's rare to see such a fine and skillful ensemble deliver such uniformly good performances.  I keep going to the theatre in Toronto and seeing television acting on stage.  It was nice to see a bunch of actors who know the difference between the two and give theatrical performances on a stage. The opening night audience loved it.

Director Ted Dykstra has assembled an excellent nine member cast anchored by the utterly wonderful Robert Persichini as Arthur Przybyszewski, the sad-sack proprietor of Superior Donuts, a failing donut joint in a part of Chicago where the old businesses of immigrant families are giving way to tonier chain stores like Starbucks.

The shambolic Przybyszewski has abandoned hope: his child, his marriage and any vestige of ambition either personal or professional.  At the start of the play, his shop has been trashed by vandals who've spray-bombed a sexist expletive used to describe a coward. The cops (who are regulars) are there. The female officer, Randy (a delightful and very funny Darla Biccum) is sweet on him but Arthur has long ago gone blind to possibility.

In one of his monologues, Przybyszewski describes himself as an evader, rather than a resister. "Resisters," he explains, "fight."

He hires a new shop assistant:  a young, black kid called Franco. Nabil Rajo brings a great deal of charm and youthful energy to the role of  Franco: a dreamer, a hustler and more than a bit of a gambler.  Franco's written a novel "America will be...", the title an homage to the great American poet, Langston Hughes. He believes fervently in his dreams which are the source of all his joy and most of his troubles.

In the space between Franco's exuberance and Arthur's pessimism, Letts explores some very interesting territory about what it means to be an American man in these troubled times. Anna Treush' set and costumes perfectly evoke both place and time.

Lett's Chicago reminded me of old Queen Street West, back when it was lined with East European butchers and bakeries and I went to Rooneen's bakery for soup on cold winter days while my laundry was spinning across the street. Thugs and hustlers, cafe philosophers and bag ladies inhabited the 'hood.  Now there's a Loblaw's instead of the Czech butcher and the Ukrainian baker.

The Galaxy Donut at Queen and Bathurst is long gone: replaced by a Starbucks.  You may know where Letts is going with this story but there's a lot of joy in the ride

Coal Mine Theatre presents SUPERIOR DONUTS at Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:30 • Sunday Matinee @ 2pm (new this year!)*
*Sunday, February 5 @ 7:30pm
Rush seats are sometimes available at the door at 7:00 PM.
All Tickets $35 (previews $25)
For more info visit

Robert Persichini in Superior Donuts