Review: ‘Superior Donuts’ has it all

Aaron Winston plays Franco in the Omaha Community Playhouse production of "Superior Donuts."

OMAHA — “Superior Donuts” drew Susan Baer Collins out of retirement as the director of the comedy-drama at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Bob Fischback, longtime reviewer for the Omaha World-Herald, who retired in 2015, joins Collins as her assistant director.

“Superior Donuts” by Tracy Letts has been turned into a sitcom on CBS. The TV show is based on this play and stars Judd Hirsch as Arthur and Jermaine Fowler as Franco.

The play has many laughs, great characters and many dramatic moments. It is much different than the current TV series. The characters are mostly the same, and the setting in downtown Chicago at a doughnut shop is where all the action takes place.

As you take your seat in the Howard Drew Theatre at the Omaha Community Playhouse, located at 69th and Cass Streets in Omaha, you find yourself in a doughnut shop in historic Uptown Chicago.

You walk across the floor of Superior Donuts and notice that the chairs are overturned and a large naughty word has been written on the wall behind the counter. The set design by Matthew D. Hamel is fantastic, and the costumes by Lindsay Pape are good.

Lighting design by Aja M. Jackson is well done. Stephanie Shattuck is the all-important stage manager.

When the lights come up on the shop, two police officers start to investigate this vandalism at the shop. A female officer named Randy, played by Julie Fitzgerald Ryan, and a male officer played by Devel Crisp are talking to an owner of the store next door, who is a Russian played by Mark Thornburg.

Thornburg’s character is bold and brash. The Russian makes racial wise cracks to the policeman, who is black. The officer shoots back with witty comments to the Russian.

A few minutes later, a down-on-her-luck customer walks into the crime scene requesting a free doughnut. She is Lady Boyle, played by Mary Kelly. In a few minutes, the owner of the shop, Arthur Przybyszewski, played by Kevin Barratt, shows up for work.

Shortly after the police leave, while Arthur is cleaning up the mess, a young man, Franco Wicks, played by Aaron Winston, enters the shop and is told by Arthur that it is closed.

Franco says he is applying for the part-time job that is advertised on a sign in the shop window. Even though he knows nothing about making and selling doughnuts, Arthur hires him, and they start a very unique relationship. Franco calls him Arthur P.

While learning the trade of doughnuts, Franco tells Arthur about great ideas to increase sales and bring people into the shop with music and poetry. He also shares a stack of legal notebooks that he describes as “The Great American Novel.” Arthur is impressed and reads the book.

Arthur doesn’t want changes in his business, though. The family shop has served doughnuts and coffee for over 60 years. He likes it just the way it is — even though the lack of customers is destroying his business.

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Arthur left the United States and moved to Canada to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War. He is a lonely man who really bonds with Franco.

Franco also has a hidden background: he owes a gangster $16,000. Luther, played by Jeremy Estill, is a nasty guy. His buddy in crime, Kevin, is played by Sean Tamisiea.

A showdown takes place towards the end of the show. The Russian neighbor has a relative Kiril, played by Jon Shaw.

There is one of the best fight scenes I have ever seen on stage. The 2½-hour production covers how neighborhoods have changed and even the coffee business has had drastic changes.

This play has it all: laughs, tears, brutality and action. It is a show about relationships. There are many doughnuts throughout the play, and you will want to eat doughnuts — which are, naturally, available at the concession stand in the lobby.

I highly recommend crossing the river to see “Superior Donuts,” which is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 4. The play does have adult language and themes.

Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Tickets are $36 for adults and $22 for students. A limited number of half-price tickets are available after noon the day of the show; these are cash or check only in person at the box office. For regular tickets, call the box office at 402-553-0800.

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