We’re about to complete the second week of rehearsals for Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, which will run from April 3-29 on Geva‘s Mainstage. The play is directed by Geva’s artistic director, Mark Cuddy.
Like A Raisin in the Sun, it takes place in a distressed Chicago neighborhood. In Donuts, the story comes to us from Uptown, an historic neighborhood to the north of downtown Chicago. In the 1900’s the area was a summer resort for city dwellers, and as the end of most of the city’s transportation system (at the time), it also became a vibrant entertainment destination. By the 1950’s, the middle class population of Uptown began leaving Uptown for the suburbs, leaving upscale mansions and residential hotels to be subdivided into apartments. It’s a racially diverse neighborhood, and that diversity creates much of the tension we witness in Donuts.
Letts is a Chicago-based playwright, whose play August: Osage County won the Tony Award for Best Play as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008. His other work includes Bug, which was adapted into a film in 2006 (starring Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Shannon); Man From Nebraska (about a man’s mid-life crisis of faith); and Killer Joe, an early work about a homicidal trailer trash family. He’s also a highly respected actor, with a very impressive stage and screen resume. To get a good sense of Mr. Letts’ character, check out this great New York Times article, published shortly after the Tony Awards in 2008.
In Superior Donuts, we watch the unfolding of a relationship between Arthur Przybyszewski, his new employee, Franco Wicks, and the neighborhood inhabitants who frequent the donut shop Arthur’s father began 60 years ago. As this relationship changes throughout the play, we see tradition clashing with new ideas and a new energy. Before rehearsals began, Mark and I talked a little about what this means on a personal level for Arthur.
We go along in life, and more so the older we get, trying to make our life comfortable. And we really work on how to get through the day with the least amount of change to ourselves and our habits – it’s just the way humans are. We can adapt but we like to do it on our own terms. And Arthur is certainly a wonderful example of someone who has built a life that has shielded him from engaging in what he feels are dangerous relationships. And he tells us from his whole life story – about his father and the war – he was always trying to step away and to not engage and to defer. Even when someone does something horrible to him – ransacks his store and writes graffiti about him on the wall – he still defers and checks out. He’s built that life and that’s how he’s going to go through. Until a change agent comes into his life. And the great thing about Franco is that he’s 20 and doesn’t get that. I mean he’s been through a lot already but he doesn’t try to build comfort for himself. He’s just trying to get through day to day. If you think of the story if Franco hadn’t walked into that donut store – where would Arthur be?
In the next post, I’ll share some of the ideas behind the design for the play – and how our designers and the artists on staff here at Geva plan to create a donut shop on stage. I’m off to rehearsal – but maybe a donut first…