The Great American Novel. Everyone talks about it, every writer thinks they’ve written it or are going to write it. But what if I told you that a young twenty-something boy from uptown Chicago has actually written it? And that he’s sharing it with a middle-aged draft-evading stoner who runs a donut shop. The very same donut shop where the young novelist has been employed as part time help. That would get you Greenbelt Arts Center’s production is Superior Donuts. Directed by Erica Drezek, this heartwarming tale about struggling to survive in a world that isn’t always fair brings the bonds of unlikely friendship to light.
The interior of the donut shop is the only setting the audience gets to see and Set Designer John Decker ensures the audience’s experience is a pleasant one. Highly detailed with all the intricate aspects of a run-down long standing counter service shop, the yellow walls and shiny red stool tops are a throwback to the era when the place opened. Decker’s work highlights the disconnect between the modern protagonist and the one stuck in his past.
Pacing is a key point of the show and in the beginning is a little slow. It quickly gains momentum as the character’s lives begin to unwind around each other. Director Erica Drezek drives the action of the production during the major fight scene in act two with her fierce fight choreography. The punches land hard and look realistic, synched perfectly with the moaning and groaning sound effects from the two actors in the scene. There is a motivation that drives the choreography here; raw emotions imploding with each unfair blow.
The wavering point of this production is the attempted accents. Max (George Tamerlani) manages his the best, as a Russian transplant to America, but when he gets excited or loud his thick Russian accent goes right out the window. The rough Chicago sound of Officers James (Christopher Martin Dinwiddie) and Randy (Michelle Trout) is completely absent, though Dinwiddie carries the attitude and explosive personality to make up for where his accent lacks. And Lady (Ann Lowe-Barrett) has a Scotch-Irish sound that wanders as much as her character does. Overall this was the point of the show that needed the most work, but if you can look past it you’ve got yourself one iced-pastry of a production.
Grounding the performance is the earthy organic feeling of these characters. The actors involved do a splendid job or giving us real life through the lenses of their character’s eyes. Lowe-Barrett as the homeless drunken vagrant shuffles and holds her stature so that we know she’s down on her luck and has been living on the streets for quite some time. Dinwiddie as the tough streetwise officer has a bubbling rage that explodes at just the right moments to demonstrate his authority despite his forced calm exterior. Character work such as this unifies the production and makes it easy for the audience to relate to the play’s reality.
Villains are expected to be vile and treacherous, but to master those qualities and do so while playing insanity to the peaks of ‘cuckoo-bananas’ is a performance well given by Larry LeRose playing the street runner Luther Flynn. He plays the character cloyingly sweet to the point of coma-inducing with a cracked edge to his persona, but underneath that vicious venomous dagger lurks, waiting to strike at the exact moment. LeRose’s maniacal laughter is both hysterical and frightening because a criminal is dangerous but the criminally insane are diabolical. His razor- sharp tongue is quick to slice up the situation despite his constant freakish giggling; so viewer beware you’re in for a scare.
The meat of the show is balanced precariously between modern upstart Franco (Clayton Pelham Jr.) and Arthur (Michael Galizia). Pelham plays the youthful fresh face while Galizia picks up the bill for the man who can’t move on. Together their unusual budding friendship touches the hearts of the audience as they skate through the trials and tribulations of their pasts together, even if at first they don’t realize that they can help one another.
Pelham maintains an incredibly vibrant internal energy. He lives up to the line ‘gotta keep movin’ from the play because even when he’s sitting down you can see the motion inside of him bouncing about like a loose spring, reflected in his eyes or contained to a single aspect of his physicality. His ability to keep that energy in motion is incredible; often times remarkable to watch as he bounds about the donut shop with his larger than life ideas spouting forth from his mouth and a great big personality to match. There is a moment where he exercises a classic ‘raise the stakes’ game with Galizia that has them both skirting about the place each one delivering a line and an action with more intensity than the next, culminating in one hell of a scene.
Galizia has a powerful mastery of the more subdued character. His eyebrows should be credited as their own character for all of the hilarious expressions he crafts with them during scenes that are just designed to make the audience laugh. While he is not physically exacerbating his energy in the way that Pelham does – his emotions come tumbling out just the same. The dichotomy Galizia creates between Arthur in scene and Arthur in soliloquy is a sharp dissection of man’s id from his ego, portrayed in such a way that you almost believe them to be two completely separate characters not at all related.
Together Pelham and Galizia make for an emotional stronghold during the production, particularly in fun moments when Pelham’s character attempts to solicit dating advice, but also in those more painstaking moments that happen later in the performance. A true union of performers who understand one another and the characters they are portraying comes to fruition in this production.
Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.