As Pit & Balcony Community Theatre continues with their 89th season, audiences will be treated to the tasty assortment of characters to be found at Superior Donuts - a comedy drama written by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning American playwright Tracy Letts, which explores the challenges of embracing the past and the redemptive power of friendship.
With live performances scheduled for March 19-21 & 26-28th, this poignant yet lighthearted work premiered by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago back in 2008 and premiered on Broadway in 2009, with this series of performances at Pit & Balcony serving as both the regional premier and Audience Choice production of Lett’s amazing work about the transformative power of seemingly incongruous relationships and how they layer into community engagement.
The play focuses on the relationship between despondent Arthur Przybyszewski, performed by Bill Campbell, a former 1960s radical who owns a rundown donut shop in Uptown, Chicago, and Franco Wicks, portrayed by Isaiah Crawford, who is an energetic but troubled young African American assistant who wants to update the establishment with lively music and healthy menu options.
Dialogue scenes are separated by soliloquies in which Arthur discusses his past and reminisces about the city as it was in his younger years, forming a backdrop for this gentle comedy that in many ways unfolds like a warm bath of a play, leaving audiences with the satisfied smiles they might get from a classic 1970s sitcom as opposed to the rattled nerves rendered by contemporary traumas.
For first-time Pit & Balcony director Glecia Tatum, who has directed numerous play for Saginaw’s 1st Ward Community Center over the past 20 years, what she feels makes Superior Donuts such a compelling production is its message of hope. “Superior Donuts is mostly about relationships and for me it’s a message of hope that I wanted to direct from the beginning after first reading it,” she reflects. “The story concerns an older Polish man whose parents were immigrants and have passed on and during the course of time, he has allowed his donut shop to fall into disrepair.”
“Gentrification is happening in this uptown area of Chicago and a Starbucks has opened across the street, so his employee Franco urges Arthur to spruce the place up and start up some poetry nights. He also wants to write the Great American Novel, so a relationship develops between the two men,” continues Tatum. “Franco breaks down some doors and the two men start talking and caring for one another. It’s a humorous and fun play that deals with more serious issues by focusing upon the hope these two characters give to one another. Over time, they actually help one another. There are so many layers to this play that I love the way the story unfolds; and every character involved is layered into the narrative in a way that you realize one can’t judge a book by its cover.”
In terms of the casting ingredients that go into Superior Donuts, Glecia says each actor that came to audition for their role found a place within their character. ”I can’t say enough about this wonderful cast,” she enthuses. “Usually a first read-through is very basic, but characters came alive with the first reading in this instance.”
In addition to the lead characters mentioned earlier, the cast consists of Bill Kircher, Katie MacLean-Peters, Jahari Essex, Mary Spadafore, Shawn Finney, Jeff Rogner and Jordan Reed. “Both of the actors playing the lead characters of Arthur & Franco takes a strong place on stage,” reflects Glecia. “Bill Campbell is a seasoned actor and I knew from the beginning he would fall right into this role because some of the things experienced in his own personal life bring so much to this character and he pours himself naturally into the role and allows his character to evolve. As for Isaiah, he has been acting for while at both SASA and SVSU and brings a fresh wind and energy to his character and is having fun with it. He’s a very solid actor who brings an openness to Arthur and both Bill and Isaiah are really bonding naturally, so I believe this will play out really well on the live performance stage.”
“Another intriguing character is Max Tarasov, portrayed by Bill Kircher,”continues Glecia. “Max is seeking to expand and wants Arthur to sell his shop and is a character very easy to dislike, yet one absolutely loves him because he always says the wrong thing for the right reasons. He’s not politically correct and falls into one of those stereotypes where you’re afraid of what is going to fall out of his mouth next, but he’s all about the American Dream and trying to realize that dream”
“Mary Spadafore, who plays Lady Boyle is also worth mentioning because she is an amazing actor in her own right,” adds Glecia. “She is the Mom of P&B director Amy Spadafore and is pretty amazing because she does all her own character work when it comes to researching her roles and is one of those actors you just want to hug. Her character in this play is that of a homeless woman who wanders in and out of the donut shop and has a good friendship with Arthur. He always gives her a free donut and she’s another one of those characters with many layers. Mary is a hoot and very funny.”
When it comes to the biggest challenge presented by bringing Superior Donuts to the stage, Glecia says for her it’s a question of time. “As a director I always want more time. Opening night is opening night, but I always want a little more time to develop the story and add things to enhance the story by not adding to the script per se, but filling the story in more with character and setting, which is always a challenge for me. Eventually, there comes a time where you realize you could finesse with the production all day or leave it alone, so I think for me the challenge is knowing when to let go and accept that moment when the story is going to be told properly and I don’t need to add anything else. That’s what’s hard for me.”
Because Superior Donuts is not available for streaming, each of the live performances will be following COVID-19 guidelines and only allow 50 to 60 people at each of the performances. With the excitement of live theatre actually engaging with a live audience once again, are there any themes or sub-themes that Glecia is trying to focus upon bringing out as a director?
“Again, for me the key theme to this production is one of hope,” she reflects. “All of us have gone through so much this past year and the fact is that all of us have experienced all types of difficulty over this past year. This play will literally open five days after the last day my son went to school in person, so for me it’s the universality of it - this entire pandemic for all people, regardless of ones stature or financial levels or position or titles, has been touched by this pandemic in one way or another.”
“I think together we have learned to work in greater unity and this is why I feel that the message of universal hope bringing us together regardless of division is so important,” she concludes. “I think the audience will leave with that message - together we can overcome anything; and while this is not over, COVID-19 did not win in the end. We’ve all had a lot of loss, but there is still hope, so I view this as not the end but the beginning.
“We’re coming back, theater is coming back, and we’ll all get back into this thing we call life.”
Pit & Balcony’s production of ‘Superior Donuts’ will be held March 19-21 and 26-28 with Friday & Saturday performances at 7:30 pm and Sunday matinees at 3 PM. Tickets are $20.00 and available by phoning 989-754-6587 or visiting PitandBalconyTheatre.com. Limited seating and COVID restrictions will be strictly enforced.