Superior Donuts at the Southwark Playhouse
Meryl Streep has just earned her 18th Oscar nomination for the film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play August: Osage County, so the UK premiere of Superior Donuts at the Southwark Playhouse is well-timed. But superior it is not: despite a great production, Donuts is less sharp and less interesting, and the comic elements feel contrived.
Arthur Przybyszewski, an ageing and laid-back erstwhile hippy, has a run down donut shop in Uptown, Chicago and hires an enthusiastic assistant, Franco Wicks, who tries to bring some life into the shop. It is the perfect odd couple set up – the older man who is taught to look at life another way by a young, hot-headed surrogate son.
There are plenty of genuinely funny moments, but elements of the play feel like a plain studio sitcom, deriving humour from overworked comedy tropes: a Russian shopkeeper whose lines are littered with malapropisms, the clash of two incompatible characters. The darker plot points, like the loan sharks who threaten to beat up Wicks, feel a bit forced and unrealistic.
But the design, direction and acting are very good. The detail of the stage design by Fly Davis continually catches the eye. The shop’s walls are made up of a patchwork of MDF squares, a formica table sits in the middle, a battered cash register on the till.
Mitchell Mullen as Przybyszewski and Jonathan Livingstone as Wicks perform brilliantly. Mullen delivers his lines with nuance, coolly maintaining his imperturbable attitude and, even when reminiscing painfully about his family, his eyes merely glisten with welling tears but nothing is over the top. Livingstone, on the other hand, is loud and energetic with an ever-present infectious grin and a ready tongue – a good foil against the impassive Przybyszewski. The two of them form a powerful onstage “bromance”.
Unlike Letts’ other pieces – Bug and August: Osage County for example – the play does not grab the audience right away. There’s not a great deal to keep the audience’s interest except for the strength of the characters themselves – and Mullen and Livingstone have clearly worked hard to extract as much as they can from their lines. Superior Donuts is a long, long way from being a bad play, but it suffers in comparison to its author’s other spectacular endeavours.
Photo: Simon Annand
Superior Donuts is at the Southwark Playhouse until 8th March 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Superior Donuts here: