When you hear that a play is called Superior Donuts you may assume it’s a play that revolves around the making of donuts, which is not completely untrue. But what you might not expect is that this play has won multiple regional awards. Superior Donuts was first produced in 2008 by the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and then had a 2009 Broadway run. It was the first play written by contemporary theater luminary Tracy Letts following his Pulitzer Prize win for August: Osage County.
Superior Donuts focuses on the relationship between Arthur Przybyszewski (played by Station workhorse Lincoln Machula), an aging hippie who owns a rundown donut shop in Chicago, and Franco, his new assistant (William Anthony Sebastian Rose II). The play will open at Urbana’s Station Theatre this Thursday June 6, directed by Smile Politely’s own Thom Schnarre. I asked Schnarre a few questions about his upcoming production, and this is what he had to say…
Smile Politely: To what does the title, Superior Donuts, refer?
Thom Schnarre: The title is interesting because it refers to both an established family business, Superior Donuts, and the product they serve. The shop, which has seen better days (especially at the beginning of the play), is run by Arthur, the only surviving member of the family, whose family history became clouded by this act. The place is also a home-base for most of the characters in this piece: Lady Boyle (a homeless woman played by Barbara Ridenour) finds this a safe pitstop in a chaotic and frightening world; Franco finds a job there, as well as a best friend and a safe place from a life that’s gotten out of control; Detectives Randy and James (Nina Sammi and Nathon Jones, respectively) use this as a hangout, a place to unwind; and Russian immigrant Max (Thom Miller) sees this building as a path to realizing the American Dream.
Smile Politely: How do you describe the play to people who’ve never heard of it?
Thom Schnarre: Superior Donuts is a hopeful play, and our set reflects this in its design. The shop is a retro cocoon reflecting forties architecture and a sixties color palate. The exterior is menacing and graffiti-laden, but this is a safe haven for all who enter, and the play recalls the simpler times of Norman Lear sitcoms, which were often both humorous and political.
Smile Politely: What kind of audience do you think this play will most likely attract?
Thom Schnarre: This play should have wide-range appeal. It is by an award-winning playwright, and the Broadway production’s cast included a Tony-nominated U of I alumni, Jon Michael Hill. The Chicago location is familiar and comfortable, and the play had its beginnings at Steppenwolf.
Other than that, the play is funny and warm and a sweet depiction of a mentoring friendship where both parties benefit. It has some drama, too, and a nifty fight scene that’s not to be missed.
Smile Politely: What attracted you to the play, and why did you choose to direct it?
Thom Schnarre: The company was interested in the play largely due to its playwright and the Steppenwolf connection. Tracy Letts is a very unique voice in Chicago and the Broadway theatre communities. He explores relationships from a male perspective and has a lot of depth and insight to his writing.
My attraction to the piece was its strong relationship that deals with multicultural perspectives in a unique way. I was a big fan of the Norman Lear era of television, and this play pays homage to it in an incredible way. It is also a lighter piece than I’ve been able to direct in the past few years.
Smile Politely: What was your experience like as the director of this play?
Thom Schnarre: This script is lovely, and my cast and crew have been amazing! The rehearsal process has been brisk (3 1/2 weeks from casting to opening), but my actors are troopers and veterans, and their characters are very nuanced. It’s a joy to work with these actors and this incredibly well-written script!
Superior Donuts will run two weekends at the Station Theatre. Performances are June 6–9 and June 12–15. All performances are at 8 p.m., and reservations can be made by calling (217) 384-4000 or through the website.