Superior Donuts Review – Tracy Letts Scores Again

Steppenwolf Theatre Company concludes its 32nd season with the world premiere of " Superior Donuts " by Pulitzer Prize winner, ensemble member Tracy Letts, directed by ensemble member Tina Landau.  This wonderful play moved me to tears, first from laughing hysterically and later from powerful emotions.  The play begins with a break-in, and ultimately, it broke into my heart.

Jon Michael Hill (Franco)Michael McKean (Arthur)

After “August: Osage County”, what could follow, I wondered.  Tracy Letts began work on “ Superior Donuts” before “August “was staged and wanted a contrast to “August” which is a huge work, a multi-generational story on an epic scale set in Oklahoma where he spent his youth.  Focusing on the theme of “What it means to be an American”, Letts set his new play in Chicago, where he has spent his adult years.  It is set in Uptown, Chicago’s most ethnically diverse community, and “the most Chicago place on Earth”.
This provocative world premiere, explores the challenges of embracing the past, facing the future and the redemptive power of friendship. Billed as a comedy, and I laughed heartily along with the audience, the powerful and complex happenings below the surface were anything but funny. America, the land of dreams, is reflected in Uptown inhabitants: Jon Michael Hill (Franco), Yasen Peyankov (Max), and James Vincent Meredith (James) with Jane Alderman (Lady Boyle), Kate Buddeke (Randy), Cliff Chamberlain (Kevin), Michael Garvey (Kiril), but the dream is not there for Robert Maffia (Luther), Michael McKean (Arthur). or Jane Alderman (Lady Boyle).  If you know and love Chicago (and even if you don’t), you will know and love the characters in “Superior Donuts” as they struggle with changes in their neighborhood.  The interplay of the various cultures reflected in their speech and body language was riveting.

Yasen Peyankov(Max) James Meredith(James)

Arthur Przybyszewski (Michael McKean) has inherited a decrepit donut shop in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, which has been in the family for 60 years.  Franco Wicks (Jon Michael Hill), an energetic black teenager persuades Arthur to hire him and tries to change the shop for the better.  The set, reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, works perfectly for all the action.  The casting and acting are superb.  Artistic Director, Martha Lavey, says, “This is the first time that Tracy and Tina have worked together…So here we go: a new play by Tracy Letts. A play set in Chicago, directed by Tina Landau.  In its home at Steppenwolf.”  Free post-show discussions, (sponsored by AT&T) are offered after every performance and I highly recommend planning time to enjoy this. Run, walk, bike, fly – don’t miss this funny, provocative, powerful production.

Ensemble member Tracy Letts received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his critically-acclaimed play, “ August: Osage County” currently playing on Broadway following a sold-out run at Steppenwolf in 2007. Mr. Letts  also the authored “Man from Nebraska”,  a 2003 finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and “Killer Joe” which was produced in Chicago, London and New York as well as  “ Bug” which played in New York, Chicago and London.  

Jon Michael Hill (Franco) Cliff Chamberlain(Kevin)Robert Maffia(Luther)

Ensemble member Tina Landau most recently directed Steppenwolf's 2007 production of “The Diary of Anne Frank”.  Other Steppenwolf directing credits include “ Cherry Orchard”, “ The Time of Your Life” (also Seattle Rep, A.C.T.), “Theatrical Essays, Maria Arndt”,  “The Ballad of Little Jo”,  “The Berlin Circle”, “Time to Burn”, and her own play, “Space “ (also NY's Public Theater, Mark Taper Forum).

The design team includes: Loy Arcenas (sets), Ana Kuzmanic (costumes), Christopher Akerlind(lights), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (original music and sound) and Chuck Coyl (fight choreography).  Edward Sobel is the dramaturg.  Laura D. Glenn is the stage manager and Lauren V. Hickman is the assistant stage manager.   

Robert Maffia(Luther) Michael McKean(Arthur)

Location: Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. PH: 312-335-1650
Run: June 29 - August 17,2008  (no performance on July 4, 2008).  
Curtain Times: Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. (Sunday evening performances through July 27, 2008 only)
Saturday/Sunday matinees-3:00 p.m. Wednesday matinees July 30, August 6,13 2:00p.m.
Ticket price: Regular Run:  $20-$68 Special prices: Twenty $20 tickets are available at beginning at 11:00 a.m. on the day of each performance (1:00 p.m. for Sunday performances) and half-price rush tickets available one hour before each show. Student discounts available-Contact Audience Services: 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650   Online ticketing available at

Jon Michael Hill(Franco)Michael McKean (Arthur)

Steppenwolf is located near all forms of public transportation and is wheelchair accessible.  Street and lot parking are available.  Assistive listening devices are available for every performance.

Production Sponsor of " Superior Donuts" is United Airlines.
" Superior Donuts" was developed as part of Steppenwolf's New Plays Initiative.  Steppenwolf is recognized as a national leader in the development and production of new work for the American canon. Through this initiative, the company maintains ongoing relationships with writers of international prominence and rigorously discovers and supports the work of early and mid-career playwrights. Steppenwolf's New Plays Initiative is generously sponsored by The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, the Zell Family Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and members of the Directors Circle.  

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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