Strong central performances anchor Superior Donuts, now on stage in Toronto
Coal Mine Theatre‘s third submission in their 2016-17 season, Superior Donuts is a very contradictory play. It’s a populist narrative verging on sitcom that equally explores some extremely complicated and nuanced social issues, touching on the struggles of generational differences, cultural differences, the danger and appeal of gentrification and a host of other things that if I dig too deeply into will turn this into a thesis as opposed to a theatre review.
So let’s keep things as simple as possible (surprisingly difficult I’m finding when it comes to this play). Superior Donuts focuses much of its narrative on Arthur Przybyszewski (Robert Persichini), owner of the titular Superior Donuts, and Franco Wicks (Nabil Rajo), a new employee of the same store. Much of the plot is built around the two of them and their working relationship, with Franco trying to bring his optimism and modern sensibilities into the struggling store while Arthur’s desire for comfortable routine (and inherent cynicism) places him at odds with his employee.
It’s a simple concept, the backbone of many a comedy, but what makes Superior Donuts so interesting is the core idea of community that keeps the two protagonists from falling into traditional “Odd Couple” roles and integrates the rest of the cast into the narrative. The store has been a part of the neighborhood for over 50 years and Arthur, while he doesn’t live in the area, is considered part of said neighborhood. The characters have a shared geographical experience which allows them to skip traditional introductions and start exploring their actual characters and history.
Persichini and Rajo dominate the show, making the scenes between their characters sparkle with their chemistry and timing. Even when the jokes are a little pedestrian, it generally feels like two people bantering as opposed to actors setting up a laugh. Dramatically the two succeed as well, letting their pathos feel lived in and real, making the second act all the more powerful for it. The rest of the cast perform admirably, with everyone getting at least one or two solid moments. I suspect I would have more to say about them, except at times those other characters felt like a distraction from the story between Arthur and Franco.
The set for Superior Donuts is a piece of brilliance and Anna Treusch deserves a lot of credit. The actual entrance to the stage area has been designed to look like the storefront of Superior Donuts and the audience walks into the set like they were walking into the store, past the garbage and extra sugar, past the counter space and into their seats. It’s a wonderfully immersive experience that plays into the intimacy of the Coal Mine Theatre.
I was lucky enough to have a great seat during the performance, but I fear some folks who were seated near the entrance found themselves far away from some of the action. Ted Dykstra clearly made an effort to provide blocking that catered to as many people as possible but I suspect there were moments where certain folks had to watch scenes with actors speaking with their backs to them or from the other side of the room. Should you see the show I recommend the area farthest from the entrance.
As a conclusion I feel I should be making some pithy comparison to donuts, but instead I will simply say that there’s a lot to love about this show and I strongly recommend seeing it, especially with friends. For all of its sitcom trappings this is a play that I believe will engender some really interesting conversations, possibly over some coffee, and maybe even a donut or two. (Hah! Knew I could get it in there somewhere).
- Superior Donuts is playing at the Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Ave)
- Performances run February 5-26, 2017, Tuesday through Sunday
- Showtimes are 7:30 PM (Tues-Sat) and 2 PM (Sun)
- Tickets are $35, $25 Rush (Cash only, 30 minutes before showtime at the door)
- Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.
Photo of Robert Persichini and Nabil Rajo by Shaun Benson