Tuesday, December 1, 2009


It is a sign of our times, the end of the world as we knew it, what with vampires besieging the screen, and right wing media guiding our non-course, that the best play on Broadway, the only piece of theater I have seen in eons on the-used-to-be Great White Way, is about to close. I am speaking, sadly, and I am sad about it, of 'Superior DOnuts.'
I was in the minority, (and not on the Pulitzer Committee) about Tracy Letts' much lauded 'Osage County,' considering it Long Days'Journey into Afternoon, Eugene O'Neill turned sideways and upside down, re-shaped into borderline sit-com. So it was with something just short of trepidation, trying for an open mind, that I went to this latest offering of Mr. Letts. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but an actual play, filled with humor and pathos and people you could actually root for, portrayed with admirable restraint by a cast of players who brought their characters to believable life, even if they came from Chicago. Michael McKean infused his role as the pony-tailed,tie-dyed leftover Hippie, Arthur, who'd Canadaed his way out of Vietnam, losing family and pride in the process, with an undercurrent of sorrow that managed to sidestep self-pity, bringing genuine wit to his curtain call. (It is the season of Broadway fights Aids, when performers ask the audience to help, and Mr. McKean said "If you're interested in spending more money, and these days, who isn't?" giving the audience as good a laugh as the playwright.) But there were legitimate laughs a-plenty in the play itself, most of them elicited by the gifted young Jon Micheal Hill, portraying the desperate young black who comes to work in Arthur's old-fashioned coffee shop(Starbucks looms threateningly nearby,) trying to pull himself out of a very deep hole, and lugging a written-by-hand Great American Novel.
Yasen Peyankov is overpowering(the point, I think) as a blowhard Russian who wants to buy Arthur's coffee shop, and the darkly coincidental(one hopes) Robert Maffia(saved by the 'f') plays the bad guy who threatens the sweetly heroic Franco. The supporting cast does just that. All in all, an entertaining and ultimately moving evening.
So it is with a heavy heart, as dentists say when they advise their patients they're retiring, that I hear the play will close. When I leave the theater and look at that once Great White Way, it appears to me with all the overlit dazzle more like an out-take from 'Blade Runner' than an actual place. So maybe what we loved about theater when theater was theater, as this play genuinely is, might be doomed to disappear into lighting effects and comic-strip characters whirling through the air on webs that not only they, but the end of genuine sensibility have spun. Alas.