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SUPERIOR DONUTS presented by The Clifton Players through Sept. 18. You can read the show description here.
There is much to like in the inaugural outing of this new local theater group. An intimate setting, a solid ensemble and a regional premiere of a good script. But, something about this production felt “off” to me and it took me a while to put my finger on it.
In many ways, SUPERIOR DONUTS is a modern day “Chico and the Man” meets “Cheers.” That is, if Chico was an African-American, “The Man” was a hippie and the bar was a donut shop.
Keeping that in the back of your mind, let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. Shop owner Arthur Przybyszewski is 60 years old. Kevin Crowley is not. This is not a commentary on Crowley’s acting ability and for some audience members it’s probably a non-issue. But for me, the two generation age-gap is an important part of the show. The sense of a hard life and the physical weariness after six decades is missing. Being younger also lessens the impact of the confrontation near the end of the show and skews the potential relationship with, and character of, Officer Randy Osteen.
Another element missing is the sense of community among the donut shop “regulars.” I didn’t get the impression that Arthur, Max, Lady Boyle and the two police officers have interacted with each over the years. A level of comfort and routine is missing. (For example, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lady Boyle reach behind the counter and pour her own cup of coffee, then not-to-subtly Irish it up from her own flask.) This lack of relationships could also explain why the final party scene felt a little hollow.
Age concerns aside, Crowley does a good job with Arthur. The scenes where he addresses the audience directly and provides details of, and insight into his character’s history work well.
Brandon Anderson does strong, genuine work as new employee Franco Wicks, especially in the early scenes when the burden of the dialogue is on him. Michael Bath is fun to watch as Russian immigrant and next store neighbor Max Tarasov, perhaps lacking a physical aspect to the character.
Reggie Willis is fun as Star Trek-loving senior Officer James Bailey. Just remember any hard-core trekker, who dresses up and goes to conventions, is not embarrassed or apologetic for it.
At the performance I attended, Carol Brammer as Officier Randy Osteen, displayed some nervousness on stage, possibly due to the closeness of the audience. Her performance is competent, but I would like to see more differences between Randy the cop, Randy the partner and Randy the woman.
Also competent is Pam Shooner as neighborhood “character” Lady Boyle. I was a bit confused, however. Is she a local bag lady or a local eccentric? I saw elements of both in her character and costuming but I wasn’t sure which was a more accurate description. As I was researching the show online, I found the character described as the “wise-crazy alcoholic.” If that is the case, I say, “more alcohol.”
Buz Davis does excellent work as Luther Flynn. His first scene with Brandon is great and appropriately scary-intimidating. I would love to see that return as Luther prepares for the confrontation, to bring that level of fear back before the fight even begins.
Carter Bratton as Kevin comes off a little too clean cut and well-spoken for Luther’s muscle. Pepper Sweeney is great for the role of Kiril Ivikin. It would have raised the stakes of the final confrontation to have Kiril take out and hold back Kevin more aggressively, essentially forcing a disrespected Luther to take matters into his own hands.
Director Cathy Springfield does a good job with the staging. Scenes flowed well and the blocking felt natural and motivated. One complaint would be having Lady on the floor too long. I understand what you were going for with Kiril, but having so many actors pointedly ignoring her plight for so long seemed forced. I wanted to help the poor lady up.
Gina Ceremeli-Mechley’s fight choreography is well-done and well-executed by the actors. Taking the fight up and off stage worked really well in the small space.
Bottom line, a bit uneven but a promising start for The Clifton Players. I’m definitely looking forward to their next production.
Click here for a complete list of showtimes.