The Pittsburgh Public Theater production is entertaining but doesn't raise the play above expectations. The crusty oldster meets energetic hip kid premise is sitcom-ish and, unfortunately, the two leads don't add anything to make the characters more notable than that. Anderson Matthews is middle-aged former draft dodger Arthur Przybyzewski, who values his privacy but has a kind heart and is a bit of a soft touch for those in needas long as they don't get too close. He owns and managers the donut shop (the old fashioned kind) his father left him in the Uptown section of Chicago. The shop looks like it has seen better days, but they may not have really been all that much better, in this neighborhood. Neighboring shop owner Max Tarasov (Donald Corren) is antsy to buy Arthur's shop so he can expand his appliance store into a discount electronics business. Friendly police officers James Bailey (Wali Jamal) and Randy Osteen (Antoinette LaVecchia) stop buy frequently, and a wise-beyond-her-appearance homeless woman named Lady Boyle has her own stool at the counter. Soon young Franco Wicks (Brandon Gill) shows up, asking Arthur for a job, and he talks him into it before Arthur realizes what has happened. When it's revealed why Franco is so anxious to make money, we clearly see where this is heading, and there's no doubt that Arthur and Franco will be good for each other (which is all pretty pat for Tracy Letts).
Matthews is fine as Arthur; he takes a little warming up to, but that's the way the character is. Arthur fills the audience in on his backstory through soliloquies as the lights occassionally dim and a spotlight isolates him from the rest of the cast. Arthur is an unhappy man in search of some kind of redemption for the things he has screwed up in his life. The character of Franco is not a well-developed one. His backstory doesn't completely fit with what we see: a bright, ambitious, hardworking, honest young man. Gill goes a little overboard in presenting Franco's zeal, which makes the character's reversal near the end of the play more drastic than it needs to be. He earns a lot of laughs, and has the audience in his pocket, as he should, but sometimes seems to be performing instead of portraying a character.
Corren is pretty much a scene-stealer as Max, the Russian next door, and does a great job at presenting a character who is funny but not a caricature. LaVecchia as policewoman Randy, who has a little crush on Arthur, is also quite good.
Michael Schweikardt's run down donut shop set is realistic and suitably grimy. Ted Pappas directs pretty much by the numbersthere's not a lot of room to stretch in this piece, as things play out as they are written. It's a sweet and heartwarming story, but it doesn't have the fireworks of Letts' earlier works.
Superior Donuts runs through May 15 at the O'Reilly Theater in Pittsburgh's cultural district. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.
Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts