Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
February 18, 2011
How far out on a limb would you go for a friend? Same-sex solidarity plays out very differently in “Steel Magnolias,” set in a Southern hair salon, and “Superior Donuts,” where conflicts play out in an Uptown, rundown Chicago eatery.
Fresh from its Broadway run, “Superior Donuts” is being served up at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, in its Southern California premiere. The comic drama, from the Tony and Pulitzer-winning playwright Tracy Letts, is quite a departure from his acclaimed dysfunctional family saga, “August: Osage County .” This is a more intimate piece, about communication among men – or the paucity thereof — and what it means to have courage and to be a friend.
Arthur, a 60 year-old former hippie, has been called a coward more than once, most significantly by his father when, decades ago, Arthur left the country in protest against the Vietnam War. Now, he’s the grungy, pony-tailed, wimpy-voiced owner of the donut shop he inherited from his Polish immigrant father. It’s a ramshackle affair that’s just been broken into, ransacked and defaced. The Russian immigrant who owns the DVD rental place next door has been wanting to buy Arthur out for years, so he can expand and fulfill his American dream. But Arthur, estranged from his daughter and recently widowed, is kind of sleepwalking through his life, paying no particular attention to the lady-cop who’s interested in him, sharing his pained thoughts and feelings with no one.
Then, Franco Wicks comes bounding in, and manages to change everyone’s life. The ambitious young African American wants to enhance the business, upgrade the space. He winds up teaching more than he learns, about camaraderie and communication and taking risks.
Under the vigorous direction of Sam Woodhouse , “Superior Donuts” crackles, anchored by a trio of stunning performances — Robert Foxworth as Arthur, Anthony Phillips as Franco and Dimeter Marinov as the Russian immigrant, Max. Six other local actors provide strong support. Letts is a wonderful, muscular writer, even if we don’t find out what happened to that long-lost daughter. But this is a play and production that thoroughly engages – your mind and your heart.
Same can be said for that 25 year-old American classic, “Steel Magnolias,” which focuses on the support system women create for themselves in the face of age, illness, premature death and gun-toting, couch-potato husbands. Laughter and tears guaranteed in the excellent Lamb’s Players production, incisively directed by Robert Smyth , with a marvelous ensemble, each woman creating a humorous, moving, memorable character.
In both shows, a crackerjack design team transports us to another place, puts us right into the action, which can be violent, as in “Donuts,” or heartbreaking, as in “Magnolias.” Really good friends take their friends to plays about friends.
The Southern California premiere of “Superior Donuts” runs through March 6 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza .
“Steel Magnolias” continues through March 20 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado .
©2011 PAT LAUNER