If you’ve seen Tracy Letts’ previous plays, Superior Donuts might surprise you. His shockingly violent scripts Killer Joe and Bug have humor, but it’s very dark. August: Osage County hearkens back to three-act dramas with many complex characters; there are laughable twists and turns, but the Pulitzer Prize winner mostly plumbs the depths of a dysfunctional family. So Donuts, more like a sitcom, is unexpected. Nonetheless, this play is an ambitious and satisfying start for Clifton Performance Theatre (CPT), undertaking its first adult production.
Letts populates his plays with colorful characters. Arthur Przybyszewski (Kevin Crowley) inherited the Chicago donut shop his immigrant parents founded in 1950; a one-time hippie draft resister, in 2011, he’s just burned out, like the neighborhood where the shop scrapes by. Enter Franco Wicks (Brandon Anderson), an ambitious and high-spirited young African American who aspires to be a writer and tries to wake up Arthur. They interact with a colorful neighbors (Michael Bath, Pam Shooner), some caring cops (Carol Brammer, Reggie Willis) and two hoods trying to shake down Franco (Buz Davis, Carter Bratton)
CPT’s acting space (which some will remember as The Cove or the original Sitwell’s location) is cramped and kind of grimy, a perfect setting for this tale of unlikely friendship. Crowley and Anderson understand and convey their characters’ essences, although Crowley seems a bit young (he’s supposed to be 61) and Anderson appears too old (Franco is 21), so their connection doesn’t initially read as authentic. But these two fine actors make it work, and the support from the rest of the cast and director Cathy Springfield is solid.
Superior Donuts is nothing fancy; it goes down easily, like a glazed treat that leaves you wanting another one. That’s pretty much how this show works, perhaps promising more from Clifton Performance Theatre.
SUPERIOR DONUTS, presented at the Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow), continues through Sept. 18.