Review: Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with one 10 minute intermission

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

In these crazy times since the election and recent swearing in of the new President of the United States, whether we want to admit it or not, there are definite divisions between races, political though, and fundamental beliefs. That being said, Third Wall Productions latest offer, Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, Directed by Grant Myers with Set Design by Jordan Hollett, Light and Sound Design by Jim Shomo, and Costume Design by Grant Myers, gives us a story of how people from different walks of life and beliefs can actually grow to understand each other and get along even though those differences are still present.

Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography

Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography

Superior Donuts, a local donut shop in downtown Chicago, isn’t much to look at but it is a respectable business owned by Arthur Przybyszewski (played by Ed Higgins) and is frequented by two beat cops (Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove), a bag lady (Emma Hawthorn), and the Russian businessman, Max) who runs the DVD shop next door (Michael Zellhofer). These characters, all from different walks of life, make up a delightful and diverse group of people who seem to care about Superior Donuts more than its proprietor until Franco Wicks (played by Isaiah Evans) enters, looking for a job. The older, white Arthur and younger African-American Franco have their differences, of course, but find common ground with the donut shop and actually grow to care about each other. The subplot of Franco’s past is intriguing and puts Arthur’s friendship to the test, which he passes with flying colors. The show doesn’t provide a lot of laughs or the happiest of endings (but I wouldn’t say it was a sad ending either), but it tells an important story.

Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Among the talented ensemble, there are a few standout performances such as Isaiah Evans, as Franco, who gives a confident, authentic performance that makes his character very likable. His moves about with purpose and connects with his fellow actors and the audience making for a stellar performance.

Adding the only comedy to the piece are Michael Zellhofer and Emma Hawthorn who play their characters to the hilt. Zellhofer’s performance as Max Tarasov is commanding and believable and his skill in playing the character straight without working to hard for the laughs his character garners is brilliant. Emma Hawthorn as Lady, the friendly neighborhood bag lady, is outstanding in her role playing it with both humor and a touch of poignancy that really makes you feel for her.

Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Ed Higgins tackles the role of Superior Donuts sole proprietor Arthur Pryzbyszewski and through he gives an admirable performance, it’s a bit shaky and unsure, at times. He has great chemistry with the rest of the ensemble, especially Isaiah Evans, and he carries the character well, albeit a bit monotone, notably during the out-of-nowhere monologues directed toward the audience. Aside from those minor observations, overall, he gives a commendable performance.

Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

The rest of the talented ensemble hold their own and add value to this production. Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove as Officers Randy Osteen and James Bailey, respectively, are charming as the beat cops and friends of Arthur, adding a bit of romance with Officer Randy and old Arthur. Bill Brisbee as Luther Flynn, the tough bookie could play the part a bit more intimidating but he has Chip Willett as Kevin Magee, Flynn’s goon, to pick up the gruff slack. Even William Zellhofer’s Russian is impressive in his brief appearance.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quaint set that was absolutely stellar and very befitting of this piece. Simple, yet detailed, Jordan Hollet’s design is authentic and well thought-out, putting the audience right smack dab in the middle of an old fashioned donut shop, adding an immersive feel to the entire production. Going along with the Set Design, Jim Shomo’s Light and Sound Design is minimal, at best, but to no real fault of Shomo. There really isn’t a lot going on with lights or sound but, then again, when it comes to plays, sometimes minimal is best. There’s not really a need for any fancy light show or sound so, in a way, it fits nicely. It’s interesting to note that it was decided to not use any music for this production, as well, but the use of music might have set the mood better for the scenes and helped with smoother transitions, which were a bit bungled.

The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Director Grant Myers made some curious choices while taking the helm of this production. The transitions were a little unkempt, the frequent breaking of the fourth wall from one of the main characters seemed to come out of nowhere, and a certain fight scene was difficult in such an intimate space, but, overall, despite a some other minor issues, the piece is charming and, as a whole, is very good and well put together. It gets the point across that, with a little trying, anybody can get along, despite their differences. The ensemble gives a commendable performance and they all have great chemistry and work well together.

Final thought…in this time of uncertain race relations and division in current events, Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions is a light but through-provoking piece expressing how different generations and races can come together in friendship and love. There’s an old adage that “it takes all kinds” and this production demonstrates this very well with its beautifully diverse ensemble who works well together to tell this important story.

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Superior DonutsWhat did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Superior Donuts will play through January 29 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to thirdwall.org for information or purchase them online.

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