Patch.com Encinitas and Carlsbad
Two local performers relish their roles in a Southern California premiere
A dissolute hippie goes head-to-head with an ambitious immigrant.
Nope, it’s not the daily news. It’s “Superior Donuts,” the latest play by Chicago-based, Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning playwright Tracy Letts, having its Southern California premiere at the San Diego Repertory Theatre.
North County residents Robert Foxworth and Dimeter Marinov play leading roles, and both strongly identify with their characters.
Foxworth, an associate artist at the Old Globe who recently moved to Encinitas (“the best place I’ve ever lived”), plays Arthur Przybyszewski, an ex-‘60s radical and draft dodger.
Arthur is the laid-back owner of a crumbling, urban Chicago donut shop, which he inherited from his Polish-born father. The adjacent video store is owned by Maxim Tarsov (Marinov), a Russian immigrant who came to the U.S. to fulfill his dream of a free life, filled with opportunity and possibility.
“I’m definitely an old hippie,” Foxworth confesses, with a laugh. “Not quite like this guy, though.” Well, duh. Arthur is considered a “loser,” and Foxworth is anything but, having enjoyed a hugely successful career on Broadway, film and TV. But back in the day, he did, in fact, participate in protests against the Vietnam War though, already being married with children, he wasn’t subject to the draft. He loves Arthur, and finds something new in him with every performance (the show is currently in previews).
“He’s such a rich, deep character,” says Foxworth. “There’s a lot of subtext; he has a lot hidden. I don’t think I’ve ever played anyone quite like this.”
And that’s saying a lot; Foxworth has portrayed a very wide range of characters. He triumphed at the Old Globe last summer, as the more elevated/educated – but no less flawed – title character in “King Lear” and the doctor in “The Madness of George III.”
He’s also played “lots of scummy guys,” he says. “That’s my favorite stuff, though they usually don’t have the depth that Tracy’s characters do. He’s a real writer. And as an actor himself, he does so much work for us. The level of believability is really high.” (Foxworth should know; he spent six months on Broadway in Letts’ award-winning “August: Osage County).
Marinov also has commonalities with his immigrant character. “I’m really, truly reliving my story in this play,” he says, still somewhat awed.
In 1990, Marinov came to the U.S. with a Bulgarian folk-music troupe (he was a singer and violinist, with a master’s degree in acting). During the tour, he defected. He moved to San Diego in 1993 and opened a small coffee shop, then a restaurant, then another coffee shop. Expanding, just like Max, who wants to buy out Arthur’s shop.
Ultimately, Marinov became a U.S. citizen and sold his businesses, “to support my dream.” Now, he adores the Carlsbad community he lives in, and earns his living from stage work in San Diego and TV commercials in L.A.
“’Superior Donuts’ is one of the most American plays I’ve ever read,” he says. “It shows America the way America really is. Theater is not fake or propaganda or amusement. We go to be reminded of, or to wake up to, who we are. This play reminds us how this country offers freedom, and a great life, to everyone – if you’re willing to work for it.
“Americans have this sense of entitlement that drives me crazy,” he continues. “People come here from all over to follow a dream, to work hard so they’ll succeed. But if you’re born in the U.S., there’s the feeling that everything has to be given to you. That you have the right to be paid if you’re out of a job, for example. No, you don’t. You’re not entitled.
“I worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no English, no friends, no relatives,” says Marinov. “If somebody gives me something, I appreciate it. I don’t feel that anybody has to give me anything. The great thing about America is that everyone has a chance, everyone has the potential to make it.”
Which brings us back to Max.
“I definitely bring my perspective to the play and the character,” Marinov admits.
Lest you think all this makes for a dark and heavy drama, think again. “Superior Donuts” is unequivocally a comedy, a far cry from Letts’ highly dysfunctional family saga, “August: Osage County.”
“Audiences will laugh their asses off,” Foxworth promises. “And also understand something about human beings. It’s really a play about the problems we have communicating. Generally, in our culture, men are worse at this than women. In that sense, it’s a man’s play. Three men are trying to communicate. And the one who teaches is the youngest. The 21 year-old kid opens the doors for everyone. It’s a wonderful perspective about youth teaching the older generation.”
The ‘youth’ is Franco Wickes (played by L.A.-based Anthony B. Phillips), a young African American who convinces Arthur to hire him as an assistant, so he can transform the dilapidated donut shop into a hip community hangout. The developing bond between them forms the heart of the story.
“It’s a masterpiece,” says Marinov. “Working on it, with this cast, is one of my greatest ever experiences in the U.S.”
“It’s fun to look out into the audience and see people kind of nodding, and leaning forward,” says Foxworth. “Everyone finds someone to identify with: young people with Franco, older ones with Arthur. I really love this play.”
“Superior Donuts” runs through March 6 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.
Performances are: Tuesdays at 7pm, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and select Wednesdays at 7pm. There is a 2pm performance on Saturday 2/19 and a 7pm performance on Sunday 2/27.
Tickets ($18-47) are available at 619-544-1000; www.sdrep.org