Saturday, October 17, 2009

Theater Review: Superior Donuts

Kate Buddeke, Michael McKean and Jon Michael Hill Photo by Robert J Saferstein

Superior Comedy Dunked in Friendship
By Lauren Yarger
Two men used to living isolated lives find a way to reach out and extend friendship to each other in Tracy Letts’ delectable new play, Superior Donuts, playing on Broadway.

The multi-talented Michael McKean (of "This is Spinal Tap," "A Mighty Wind" and the like fame) plays Arthur Przybyszewski, the lonely owner of his family’s run-down donut shop in uptown Chicago (James Schuette, set design). He ex-wife recently died and he hasn’t been showing up to run Superior Donuts, lately.

His regular customers, cops James Hailey (James Vincent Meredith) and his partner Randy Osteen (Kate Buddeke), who has a thing for Arthur, Lady Boyle (Jane Alderman) who is a testy, impoverished older woman whom Arthur gives free donuts, and Max Tarasov, the racist Russian shop neighbor who wants to buy his store so he can expand his DVD business, all are worried, especially after the donut shop is vandalized.

Things start to look up, though, when Arthur hires a savvy, plain-speaking, street tough African-American kid named Franco Wicks (Jon Michael Hill). Franco, an eternal optimist, tries to convince the negative thinking Arthur to make some changes that could turn the business into something really superior. Francos’ engaging personality lights a spark in Arthur and he entertains the youth’s ideas about being nicer to customers, adding healthier selections and offering a poetry reading.

The two men develop a friendship, with Franco giving his boss tips on how to approve his appearance and win Officer Osteen. The boy, in an expression of friendship, asks Arthur to read his “great American novel,” written over years in a series of notebooks. He agrees, but balks at sharing anything back, like details of his life, or why his wife and daughter no longer are around. Franco, meanwhile, has a few secrets of his own that put him, his boss and the donut shop in danger.

The play is a real treat, both in its plot and character development. While Arthur is hesitant about sharing personal details with Franco, he does break from the action of the play every so often to talk to the audience directly about his family, his time as a draft dodger and how he deals with feelings about his father, who called him a coward. The effect, nicely directed by Tina Landau, doesn’t interrupt what we see, but gives us a way to understand this character better. This play is far superior (yes, pun intended), in my opinion, to Letts’ August Osage County, which won the Pulitzer and Tony awards, but which is far too depressing and contains way too much family dysfunction to engage me.

The cast is top-notch all around. Each character, even the smallest, a Russian thug, is fully developed and played by Michael Garvey. Lighting by Christopher Akerlind and sound by Robert Milburn and Michael Bodeen enhance the timeframes and mood of the dingy shop.

So treat yourself and indulge in this sweet production about the redemptive powers of friendship which hails from Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and runs at the Music Box Theater. 239 W. 45th St., NYC. For tickets, visit For discounted tickets, that support Masterwork Productions, click here.

Christians might like to know:
• The show posts a Mature rating
• Drug use depicted
• God’s name taken in vain
• Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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