Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GableStage: Superior Donuts (5 reviews)

GableStage opened its production of Tracy Lett's Superior Donuts on March 12, 2011.
A new comedy/drama from the author of two GableStage favorites - Killer Joe (2000) and Bug (2004) - and the Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County. An offbeat friendship grows between a cantankerous white shop owner and an ambitious black teenager with something to hide. Amidst the changing face of an old Chicago neighborhood, a local donut shop becomes the setting for old secrets, new beginnings and the redemptive power of friendship.
Joe Adler directed a cast that included Avi Hoffman, Sally Bondi, Patti Gardner, Chaz Mena, Marckenson Charles, Paul Homza, Alex Alvarez, and Gordon McConnell.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper (scroll down - it's the second half of a two-fer):
At its best,‭ ‬Superior Donuts draws the growth of the unlikely friendship of Arthur and Franco,‭ ‬as they trade wisecracks and world views.‭ ‬Franco is brought vividly to life by a very promising young African-American actor,‭ ‬Marckenson Charles,‭ ‬whose swagger and verbal confidence are both ingratiating and persuasive.‭ ‬He plays off of the naturally ebullient Avi Hoffman,‭ ‬here underplaying as a man whose life went on hold when he fled to Canada during the Vietnam War,‭ ‬evading the draft.‭
...Superior Donuts is a lot more upbeat than most of GableStage’s fare,‭ ‬though director Joe Adler does what he can to cover the proceedings with a layer of grit.‭ ‬In addition to Hoffman and Charles,‭ ‬he fills the stage with an on-target ensemble that includes John Archie and Patti Gardner as two of the Second City’s finest,‭ ‬Sally Bondi as a wry bag lady and particularly Chaz Mena as a Russian entrepreneur eager to acquire Arthur’s shop.
Chris Joseph turns in a a review bereft of any worthwhile analysis to the Miami New Times:
Superior Donuts... is lighthearted, simple, and oftentimes sentimental. That doesn't mean it isn't filled with nuance or substance.
And then it's endless paragraphs reciting the story of the play.  Blah Blah Blah.  So and so was a heavy.  This one was "solid," and that one was "authentic."  But was it the writing, the performance or a combination that made it work?  You won't find out from Chris Joseph.
Director Joseph Adler has done a masterful job with this production's ensemble. Led by the talented Mr. Hoffman, Superior's actors all have stage presence and great comedic timing — essential in a play where the dialogue is everything.
Imagine that - professional stage actors with stage presence.  Stop the presses! 

Eventually, Mr. Joseph actually spits out an observation actually germane to the production of the play:
To top it all off, a fight scene choreographed by Homza is as graphic and violent as you'll see performed during a live production.
Mr. Joseph enjoyed the play and recommends it, but the New Times should keep looking for a theatre critic - this guy has no clue about what constitutes a properly written theatre review.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...Superior Donuts displays the talented Letts’ many gifts: snappy dialogue, an engaging plot, the way he laces even the funniest moments with darker undercurrents (and vice versa). This one, artfully and entertainingly staged by Joseph Adler, is set inside a tidily kept donut shop in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood... a place so authentically rendered by designer Lyle Baskin that you want to claim a stool at the counter and order a donut
... bad guys Luther Flynn (Gordon McConnell) and Kevin Magee (Paul Homza) show up, as does Max’s hulking nephew Kiril (Alex Alvarez), all participating in a fight scene so well choreographed by Homza that it looks like Hoffman and McConnell are doing real damage to each other.
The acting in Superior Donuts is, as is so often the case at GableStage, first-rate.

Hoffman has to cope with Arthur’s character-revealing monologues that, truth be told, could have been integrated as dialogue, and playing depression presents another challenge. But the actor crafts a character who is both an appealing mess and a stand-up guy. The funny, scene-stealing Mena makes you wish Letts would write a play about this wily Russian. In his short scenes, McConnell exudes smiling, exasperated menace.

Charles, a recent New World School of the Arts graduate, finds all the layers in the beautifully written Franco — charm, hustle, despair, joy, humor, the gift of inspiration. Watching him is exciting, both in the moment and because you realize you’re catching a talent at the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant career.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for South Florida Theater Review:
Two elements injected electricity into GableStage’s entertaining production of Tracy Letts’ flawed script for Superior Donuts: Marckenson Charles’ breakout performance as a street kid with unfettered dreams, plus one of the most convincing brawls ever seen on a Florida stage.
... under Joe Adler’s direction Saturday night, Charles blossoms fully as Franco Wicks. He delivers Letts’ steady stream of irreverent chatter and banter with the smart-aleck stand-up rhythms of Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock.
... the script has one serious weakness and it undercuts this production as well. Arthur has to carry the play for the first half-hour until Franco arrives. But Letts has written him – and Hoffman plays him faithfully – as a profoundly shut-down human being. Hoffman and Adler bravely choose not to make him some charismatic curmudgeon with a heart of gold.
You can argue Hoffman even plays him too tamped down, but when Arthur awakens, so does Hoffman. When Arthur rises phoenix-like, Hoffman does not sink to creating some fearless storybook hero. Hoffman expertly shows the dread under the resolve; his Arthur knows before he begins that there will be no clear-cut victory accompanied by a swelling soundtrack. Which makes his resurrection all the more courageous.

That rebirth leads to the knock-down, drag-out fist fight between Hoffman and McConnell, two actors on the far side of 50 slugging it out like they were reenacting the last reel of Rocky. Paul Homza, who also plays Luther’s chief thug, has staged a stunning battle. Most stage fisticuffs look fake even from a distance. This one looked as real as you can hope for, even ten feet away. Homza’s choreography is impressive, but also credit the actors, huffing and staggering like middle-aged men would while beating the hell out of each other.

The supporting cast is solid but  Mena... steals every scene with his cartoonish emigre complete with fractured English, slicked-back hair, garish bling, booming voice and an infectious joy at living the American Dream.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami Artzine:
I've got to say, if you put Avi Hoffman in a pot with Chaz Mena, Gordon McConnell, Marckenson Charles; John Archie, Patti Gardner, Paul Homza, Sally Bondi and Alex Alvarez and have Joe Adler stir them up, you'll get one scrumptious evening at the theatre.
With his tie-dyed t-shirt, torn jeans and lank, unwashed ponytail hanging off the back of his balding head, Hoffman gives us a complex cowardly man who is capable of heroic deeds.  And great comedy. 
Mena's sly Max, with his mangled English, his swagger, and his clothes and jewelery, is a delight.
But delightful is not the word for Gordon McConnell who is Luther the bookie.  Try brutal, menacing and unbearably pleasant. 
Recent New World graduate Marckenson Charles, who plays Franco, a young black man who finds work in the doughnut store is a flat out pleasure to watch.  Remember this young man's name:  Marckenson Charles.  You'll be seeing it often.
Luther the bookie's “muscle” is Kevin, played by Paul Homza, who also staged one of the best fight scenes I've seen.  Hoffman and McConnell throw themselves around with such abandon and skill that it's hard to tell the stage blood from the real.

Superior Donuts plays at GableStage through April 10, 2011.

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