You may not recognize it, even if you’ve talked about it, think you’ve seen it, or may even think you’ve written it. We’re talking about the great American play. And it’s happening at the Colonial Players of Annapolis as they present Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts to continue on in their 65th season. Rich dynamic characters, every day struggles and strife, real situations with real meat behind the story; all of that comes from the creative mind of playwright Tracy Letts. The superior performance given by the exceptionally talented cast in play is equally as impressive; the actors have cultivated a stunning drama, a play where the audience is swept along by their performance right into the essence of every moment. Directed by Kristofer Kauff, this production is poignant and well- executed; a remarkable dramatic performance that infuses humor into lives difficulties.
Director Kristofer Kauff, also leading the charge for set designer, brings an actualized vision into play with this production. A personal story set on a stage in the round is simply a tale without the correct knowledge of how to work actors and concepts in the round. Kauff displays an exceptional knowledge of blocking and articulating his directorial vision in this space. Enclosing the audience into the donut shop so that we become the customers is a brilliant move to highlight the story’s relatability and it furthers the audience’s interest in the two main characters. Kauff’s clean set design; simple outward facing signs to create the illusion of doors and windows that open onto the busy Chicago uptown streets, keeps the show contained without limiting its potential for growth. His overall layout of the donut shop is executed with a finely honed precision in the space, making the play flow smoothly as it progresses.
It is the nuances of these broad-stroked characters that really makes Kauff’s directing exemplary. Each character comes with a fully developed back story and unique individuality that really gives the story structure; fully formulated notions that can be seen in the way the actors physical carry their characters, the way in which they speak, and other little mannerisms that speak volumes of Kauff’s creative ability in this production.
No character is too small, and some of the smaller characters make a larger impression because of the way in which they are crafted. Lady Boyle (Mary MacLeod) and Kiril (Ben Carr) are both momentary cameo characters but are constructed with such precision that you feel as if they are main elements in the performance. Carr appears only in the second act and is mostly silent but his upright rigidity, fierce stature and sharply spoken handful of words relays a rich history to the audience. MacLeod epitomizes a homeless woman who struggles with addiction, her mannerisms and frantic speech patterns honing in on her specific troubles. MacLeod is a scene stealer that grabs the audience’s attention when she shuffles in loudly, boisterously making her problems the central focus. It is the genuine reality of the character’s plight that she brings to the surface in a simplistic fashion that keeps us intrigued by this minor cameo role.
Officer James (Chris Haley) and Officer Randy (Shirley Panek) bring the rough edge of Chicago into the donut shop. Haley’s performance is edgy, but not without its comic vices that enable moments of necessary humor to shine through. Panek, as the female cop, does an exquisite job of crafting moments of extreme awkward tension between her character and Arthur. The moment she emotionally explodes in Haley’s face is a fully charged powder keg, but clearly interpreted to a fault as a transparent veil for her character’s presumed rejection.
Accents can make or break a character in a performance and in this case Rick Estberg’s broken Russian-English sound does the character of Max a great deal of justice. While not overtly Russian in sound it is clear that Estberg has done his research in handling the character’s confused phraseology and ill-polished comprehension of the English language. His ability to make the mixed-up colloquialisms sound profoundly out of place is an endearment to the character.
Driving the performance are Arthur (Terry Averill) and Franco (Darius McCall). The pair form an unlikely and unsteady friendship throughout the performance. The chemistry that blossoms between them builds across the long arch of the plot, moments falling into place between them exactly as it should, all culminating in a deeply satisfying and extremely rewarding emotional conclusion at the show’s end. The two energies between these actors create a perfect balance on stage; one infinitely charge the other slowly fading out; creating an interesting dynamic as the show evolves.
Averill, as the laid back draft-dodging hippy, brings a new approach to the character, imbuing him with a heavy-handed dose of fear. Everything from the way he physically cowers to the way he stutters about even in moments of anger supports Averill’s notion of cowardice in this character. There is a filter of fear that traps the character’s emotions, making for an intriguing delivery during Arthur’s many soliloquies. There is a disparaging sense of Arthur’s existence infused into everything he says and does; a brilliant performance given by Averill to cleanly construct this deeply troubled man in a realistic and yet vulnerable fashion.
McCall gives a sensational performance, a clear grasp on the character’s streetwise attitude as well as a commanding hold on comic delivery. McCall portrays a vibrantly resilient Franco, high stakes already clearly conceived in his character’s mind set. The conversation shared with Arthur about the great American novel is the epitome of give-and-take in a stage conversation; delivered with such poignancy from McCall’s character that both the play’s depth of racial tension and witty comic banter are hung perfectly in the balance. There is a genuine humanity that supports McCall’s performance; a brilliant zest that drives every moment of his onstage existence.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.