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In real life, odd couples can be tiresome with their bickering and bellyaching, but in the theater they’re usually a source of comic bliss. And there’s a memorable one on display right now at the Geffen Playhouse, where Tracy Letts’ absorbing comedy “Superior Donuts” opened Wednesday under the direction of Randall Arney.
Arthur Przybyszewski (Gary Cole) is the proprietor of a rundown doughnut shop in a part of Chicago that went downhill years ago and never came back. An old hippie with a graying ponytail, few words and defeated eyes, he looks as beaten down as the neighborhood where his store has just been broken into.
Franco Wicks (Edi Gathegi), a 21-year-old African American go-getter who’s been writing the Great American Novel, bangs on the shop door inquiring about a job. The lights are out and Arthur, a little high from smoking a joint and more than a little down from the difficult memories he’s been sifting through, tells him he’s closed. Franco, however, won’t take no for an answer. His energy and optimism are self-charging, and he impresses Arthur as a bright kid who deserves a break, not realizing that it’s Franco who’s offering him the lifeline.
Superior donuts 2The play is like a human chemistry experiment that sets out to discover what will happen when a sullen, disappointed baby boomer opens himself up to a young dreamer who, despite his hardships (and a gambling debt that won’t go away), feels certain that the best is yet to come.
Mired in guilt over his Polish immigrant father, who never forgave him for evading the Vietnam War draft, Arthur has carried on the family business with an emotional numbness that surely hastened the demise of his marriage. His parents and ex-wife all dead, his daughter estranged from him, he finds himself unable to move forward, and his appearance is like a billboard announcing to all the world that he’s stuck.
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