The play “Superior Donuts” is a lot like its namesake, a superior doughnut: Inside its coarse exterior there lies a satisfying goodness, sprinkled with a nutty tidbits and leaving you wanting more.
There is room to share Tracy Letts’ wonderful play in Shea’s 710 Theatre, where “Superior Donuts” is being presented again by Road Less Traveled Productions. RLTP had a hit with the show in 2011, when the theater company was tucked into a small former movie venue in the Market Arcade, and nothing has been lost in the transition.
The formidable Steve Jakiel returns as Arthur Przybyszewski, an aging hippie who runs the doughnut shop he inherited from his immigrant parents. The show opens with the store in disarray, vandalized during a break-in, although it looks like things were kind of shabby before the incident.
We soon learn that the 1950s American dream that Arthur’s parents realized is falling away in front of changing demographics and a wave of Starbucks. Caught in a current he cannot stop, Arthur laments, “Isn’t anybody paying attention in America? Our neighborhood needs help!”
He would wallow there forever, running out of coffee for his nonexistent customers, except fate has something else in store for him: Franco Wicks. Twenty-one years old, taking a break from college, named for Franco Harris and ready to take on the world, Franco uses his wits to get a job interview with Arthur, puts on an apron and makes it his goal to do two things: learn how to make doughnuts and change Arthur’s worldview.
Jake Hayes gives Franco such an infectious charm even Arthur is not immune. Nor is the audience. Whether he’s bopping around the stage in bursts of poetic energy or slipping into a quick spot-on Stevie Wonder impersonation, you can’t take your eyes off of him for fear of missing what is going to come next.
Franco takes everyone so high with his flights of optimism that, when it all crashes down, the entire theater groans in unison. No one wants to believe Arthur when he says that all dreams are just dead ends, and yet, here we are.
Or are we?
Director Lucas Lloyd, working with an excellent production team (we will single out Nick Quinn’s lighting design), has created such an immersive experience that we feel as though we’ve wandered into an old corner place on Buffalo East Side. Why, there’s James Bailey (Gabriel Robert), the cop on the beat who has a secret or two of his own, and the Russian emigre businessman Max (John Profita), who has embraced capitalism with a vengeance. Dave Spychalski has a few fun moments as Max’s muscle, and Tina Rausa gives a knowing grace to the local bag lady, Lady Boyle.
We even get some jokes in the midst of the messes caused by the two resident bad guys, Luther and Kevin, played by David Hayes and Johnny Barden.
Overall, the mix is just marvelous. It has been eight years since RLTP’s last production of this fine play, so we will say, in the words of the great Jim Schoenfeld in a completely different context, it is indeed time for us to “Have another doughnut.” Enjoy.
★ ★ ★ ★ (out of 4)
Presented by Road Less Traveled Productions through Oct. 27 in Shea’s 710 Theatre, 710 Main St. Tickets are $44 general, $18.50 for students, at sheas.org.
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