'Superior Donuts' a sweet tale
URBANA — At 56, Lincoln Machula is a tad young to be an old hippie. Still, he relates to the character of Arthur, the old hippie who owns the titular shop in "Superior Donuts," opening tonight at the Station Theatre.
"He's essentially a hopeless man," Machula said before rehearsal Monday evening. "He's really lost. He has to be jarred out of his stasis by this young man, Franco."
Franco Wicks, whom Arthur hires as his assistant at Superior Donuts, is being played by William Anthony Sebastian Rose II.
Rose, 25, didn't become aware until Monday evening that University of Illinois theater alumnus Jon Michael Hill originated the role of Franco in 2008 at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and in 2009 on Broadway.
For his Broadway debut as Franco, Hill received a Tony Award nomination for best featured actor in a play.
Rose, though, has his own chops. He's been acting for years, most recently while he studied theater at Parkland College and Illinois State University. He also spent a year in Chicago, auditioning for theater roles, winning a role in a musical and in an educational video.
Rose said Franco, an urban youth living in a changing neighborhood in Uptown Chicago, is fun to portray.
"He's very into trying to better himself while still understanding he has to do certain things," Rose said. "He knows some of those things are illegal, but he still has to do them. He has a lot of layers."
"Superior Donuts" was written by Tracy Letts, who won the Pulitzer and other prizes for "August: Osage County." New York Times critic Charles Isherwood called "Osage" a full theatrical meal but opined that "Superior Donuts" is "a much less ambitious repast" that is "insubstantial and sweet, with virtually no nutritional value.
"Still, minor though this comedy is, it is also hard to dislike. Who doesn't hanker for a doughnut now and then?" Isherwood wrote.
The critic noted that Letts had described the play as a love letter to Chicago.
"But it could also be described as a valentine to the 1970s sitcoms of Norman Lear, which featured colorfully contrasted characters, formulaic but smart comic writing and a social conscience," Isherwood wrote.
Thom Schnarre, who is directing "Donuts" at the Station, also compared it to Lear sitcoms. Schnarre said the second act of the play focuses, more than the first, on social issues, among them coming to terms with a rapidly changing neighborhood.
"Another big theme is how elders have to look out for the young, have to step up to be good role models for them," Schnarre said.
However, the director and cast are emphasizing the comedy in "Donuts" by creating colorful sets, costumes and characters.
"It's summer, so we wanted it to be colorful and light," Schnarre said. "But you might need a hanky by the end. It's a feel-good ending, not tragic. It has a warmth to it."
One of his favorite characters is Lady Boyle, a homeless schizophrenic who frequents the doughnut shop that Arthur's parents had opened in 1950 but is now being usurped by Starbucks.
Barbara Ridenour, who retired from University Laboratory High School in 2011 as drama director, is playing Lady Boyle. Though Ridenour loves the character, she admitted Monday evening she hadn't quite figured her out completely.
Lady Boyle has lost three of her four children and is alcoholic but quirky and wise. Machula said Lady Boyle speaks "some wonderful lines that seem insane but go right to the heart of the matter."
Also appearing in the two-act play are Thom Miller as Max; Nina Samii, Randy; Nathon Jones, James; Dar'Keith Lofton, Luther; Aaron L. Winston, Kevin; and Max Tomaszewski, Kiril. With intermission, the play runs for 2 hours and 10 minutes, Schnarre said.
If you go
What: Celebration Company presents "Superior Donuts," a dramedy by Tracy Letts, directed by Thom Schnarre, starring Lincoln Machula as Arthur and William Anthony Sebastian Rose II as Franco
When: 8 p.m. today through June 15
Where: Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway Ave., U
Tickets: $10 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $15 on Fridays and Saturdays
Reservations: 384-4000; http://www.stationtheatre.com