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Art Southwest Florida’s review of ‘Superior Donuts’


In North Naples, The Studio Players is performing an interesting two-act dramedy that comes from the mind of Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts (August-Osage Country). While the play is clearly a commentary on the power of friendship, community and second chances, at its core Superior Donuts is an affectionate examination of the magic that can transpire when people from different generations, demographics, races and ethnicities make the effort to get to know and understand each other.

The two individuals at the center of this study are Arthur Przysyszewski and Franco Wicks. Arthur is a Baby Boomer; Franco a Millennial. Arthur is Polish-American; Franco African-American. Arthur owns and operates a donut shop that his family founded sixty years ago; Franco is a young man with no money, no material possessions and few prospects. Arthur lives in the past; Franco has his eyes firmly fixed on the future. Arthur is entrenched in the status quo, as hopeless and desperate as that might be; Franco sees opportunity everywhere and in everything he sees and touches.

There are other unlikely pairings in Superior Donuts.

There’s the romantic sparks that fly between Arthur and Officer Randi. Besides their racial differences, he’s a presumably liberal Vietnam draft dodger and she’s a presumably conservative law enforcement officer.

And there’s Max Tarasov. Whereas Arthur is seemingly placid and passive, Max is antagonistic, aggressive, even mercurial. Max wants the space that Superior Donuts occupies so that he can expand his business. Arthur has no desire to sell his shop. He’s content to while away the remaining years of his life selling coffee and a donut or two to the fewer and fewer customers who patronize Superior rather than the Starbucks across the street.

Differences such as these are usually insurmountable. But these characters do something quite unexpected. They talk to one another. They listen to one another. They come to understand each other’s hopes, dreams, needs and realities. And as a result, they come care about and become invested in each other’s lives.

Watching this dynamic unfold on stage is worth the price of admission alone. But the other reason to see Superior Donuts before it closes on November 12th are the performances turned in by each member of Director Bonnie Knapp’s cast.

Mike Dinko’s role is a heavy lift. Not not just because the part of Arthur Przysyszewski comes with a heavy line load, including a series of revealing monologues directed to the audience in derogation of the sacrosanct theatrical fourth wall. The role requires Dinko to conjure and convey an impossibly wide range emotions that subtly change in complexity as the story unfolds. For example, when the audience first meets Arthur, he is unapologetically weary, defeated, apathetic and disinterested in life and everyone around him. But eventually, soft, caring, almost paternalistic emotions emerge, triggering the fears, anxieties and insecurities that inevitably come from opening himself to the possibilities of friendship and love.

Fredley Sylvain’s achievements in the role of Franco Wicks are no less impressive, particularly given that Superior Donuts represents his first stage play (aside from an appearance several weeks ago for The Naples Players in their season-opening musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). As Franco, Sylvain injects youthful enthusiasm and confidence into Arthur Przysyszewski’s donut shop as he sets about the task of breaking through his new employer’s business and emotional stagnancy. The passion and positivity that Sylvain brings to his character is infectious. It does more than just win over staid and curmudgeony Arthur. It gives the audience a rooting interest in what happens to Franco. It’s also the reason the audience is caught so off guard when Franco devolves into the same defeatism and despondency that consumed Arthur at the story’s beginning. But that’s to be expected when one’s life work and concomitant hope for the fame and fortune at the root of every American’s dream is suddenly and violently ripped from your fingers.

While Dinko as Arthur and Silvain as Franco are unquestionably (and deservedly) the headliners, the rest of the cast turn in exemplary performances. Alicia Schwartz is endearing as Officer Randi, and Todd Miller unexpectedly serves as the modern Greek chorus, imparting observational wisdom from time to time.

Tom Rex plays the part of Russian émigré and aspirational entrepreneur Max Tarasov with an angst and gravitas that contrasts sharpely with Arthur’s lack of ambition and vision. Marilyn Hilbert could not be more delightful in the role of eccentric Lady Boyle, and Will Connors as Luther and Anthony Pena as Kevin provide both menace and mirth to the roles of a bookie and enforcer every bit as malevolent, albeit not quite as murderous, as Pulp Fiction’s Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega.

It should be clear from the preceding, but I will state the obvious anyway. The performances in Superior Donuts not only bespeak of Tracy Letts’ superior writing and gift for characterization, but Bonnie Knapp’s nuanced direction.

Superior Donuts plays in the Joan Jenks Auditorium at Golden Gate Community Center through November 12.

October 30, 2023.

Go here for play dates, times and ticket information.

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