Monday, Oct. 8 — Far from the Miracle Mile, the down-and-out, hole-in-the-wall diner of Purple Rose Theater’s “Superior Donuts” is set in a Chicago ghetto. There is no beginning, no end in this slice-of-life play, yet it brings together an immigrant history, stories of generations past and the complexity of America, not always so beautiful.
Two polar opposites are at the heart of the play. The shop owner, Arthur Przbyszewski, inherited the place from his father. It shows more than 40 years of wear and tear, much of it based on Arthur’s neglect. Randolph Mantooth plays Arthur as a quiet, emotionally damaged character, traumatized by his decision to evade the Vietnam War by fleeing to Canada, by the death of his wife and the loss of his only daughter. He gets by.
Mantooth’s best scenes are the deeply emotional monologue narratives he gives directly to the audience, explaining his parent’s emigration from Poland. There is an intimacy akin to conversations between therapist and client. The audience struggles with Arthur as he tries to convey his turbulent feelings with an exquisite inarticulateness.
While Arthur has difficulty overcoming his distant aloofness, Franco, his young African-American employee, exudes an irresistible energetic youthfulness. Brian Marable plays Franco, jive-dancing across the stage, all squiggles and lines, and with a ghetto-speak that is manic and magic. He is facile and fearless. He is incurably optimistic, imagining himself as the writer of the great American novel, and promoting the possibility that Arthur — with his help — could transform Superior Donuts into the neighborhood hot spot for a poetry jam.
There is a strong supporting cast of seven characters in this cast who come and go through the shop as the play progresses. Sandy Ryder stands out above the rest as Lady Boyle, a hard-of-hearing homeless person with a wealth of street-smart wisdom that sometimes bridges the differences, sometimes not, between the two main characters.
Michelle Mountain delivers a fiery Officer Randy Osteen, while Michael Brian Ogden, packs a lot in his three lines — two of which are, “Hello.”
Bartley Bauer’s set is a classic 1950s design, a black-and-white tiled floor and chrome tables and chairs in matching red and whites, a dirty and unkempt reflection of Arthur’s disillusioned view of the world.
“Superior Donuts” has dark moments of ugly violence that eventually intrude on the soft intimacies of the play, and leave audience members with many unresolved issues to ponder. Writer Tracy Letts and Director Guy Sanville have created a kaleidoscopic dance that is tender, rough-and-tough and a true-life view of an urban America, that is home of the brave.
The Purple Rose Theatre Co.
Through Dec. 15
137 Park St.