Theatre 3 scores another success with a superior ‘Donuts;’ Uptown Players do B’way the right way
The set-up for Tracy Letts’ play Superior Donuts is a trope that has been around for decades: A curmudgeonly shopkeeper meets an abrasive young person and, despite their essential differences, they form a symbiotic bond: The youngster energizes the old man, giving his life a second act, and he in turn provides a role model for someone with promise.
Sometimes the younger character is a child, or a girl, or occasionally even a cat; in the case of Superior Donuts, it’s Franco (Chris Piper), a fast-talking, entrepreneurial young black man who shows up at the worn out Chicago donut shop of its equally worn out proprietor, Arthur Przybyszewski (Van Quattro), a pot-smoking, draft-dodging, closed-off misanthrope. Franco wrangles himself a job behind the counter, but both men come with as much baggage as promise.
If the premise sounds familiar, even clichéd, well, perhaps; but Letts is a masterful writer of character-specific dialogue, and the cast is simply exceptional. Piper conveys a hint of desperation and a survivalist’s quick-witted charm; he’s among the most natural of actors working today. Quattro conjures up images of Terry Kinney: Scruffy, hard-edged but as doughy as one of his own crullers. Brandi Andrade’s Fargo-like cop, Rick Espaillat’s hysterically racist Russian émigré and Carolyn Wickwire’s gin-blossomed bag lady are equally evocative, as is David Walsh’s exceptional set.
With the recent triumph of The Farnsworth Invention, lately Theatre 3 has been on a terrific roll — or in this case, a superior donut. Extra sprinkles.
The folks at Uptown Players have been doing their annual Broadway Our Way fundraiser (premise: Guys sing show tunes meant for girls, and vice versa) for 10 years now, long enough that the format could have grown tired, the song catalogue repetitive. But somehow the addition of new director B.J. Cleveland — who launched the troupe by appearing in their first show in late 2001 — has revitalized BOW. It’s decade anniversary show is hands-down its best yet (and last year’s was pretty great).
Cleveland has developed a through-line, at least in the first act, where scenes link together like a story: Some lesbians are “Standin’ On the Corner Watching All the Girls Go By” down on McKinney Avenue, while two gay men flirt on its streetcar to “The Trolley Song,” etc. And the big challenge — how to make the twist in genders seem fresh — is explored with wondrous hilarity in “Big Spender” (set in a gay bar) and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” which uses the predominance of a certain gay hook-up smartphone app as the new Yenta.
But what really gets the audience on their feet are the numbers from The Book of Mormon, the incorporation of hosts Paul J. Williams and Marisa Diotalevi’s characters from last fall’s hit show The New Century and Williams, Cleveland and an Angelina-legged Coy Covington dragging their way through “We’re Your Dreamgirls” as Mrs. Garrett, Liza and Joan Crawford. Talk about playing to your strengths. BOW doesjust what it’s supposed to: Remind theatergoers just why Uptown Players are an integral part of the North Texas arts community. Keep it gay, keep it gay, keep it gay.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2012.