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A CurtainUp Review
Life is heading south for this Polish hold-out, an ex-Vietnam War evader who still seethes from his dead father's accusation of cowardice. But Arthur is shaken from his rut by the bumptious arrival of Franco Wicks (the too-peppy Jon Michael Hill). This tough-loving, street-smart, 21-year-old black hotshot immediately persuades Arthur to give him a job making donuts, then "makes over" his life with sassy sarcasm. Franco teems with unworkable ideas for boosting Arthur's dying business. His own passion is an unpublished novel which Arthur likes at first reading. But Franco, an imprudent gambler, is in dangerous debt to some South Side goons. Arthur's improbably noble attempts to save Franco from the thugs come too late. Our so-called comedy ends with their dreams damaged if not destroyed—Arthur's donut shop, Franco's novel (which, the play hints, may be rewritten from memory), and, alas, Franco's right hand.
If the first act plays like a formulaic sitcom where opposites incongruously attract and colorful, compassionately-depicted Uptown denizens strut their stereotypes, the second act swings into full melodramatic overkill, with a gratuitous and endless boxing match between Arthur and the mob enforcer. ("I don't believe this" is the subtext to almost everything in the last hour where Superior Donuts suffers from too many holes.)
Tina Landau's staging works mightily to lighten up a rapidly darkening plot but by the end only the audience's sheer wishful thinking keeps this a comedy. Like Brett Neveu's recent Gas for Less at Goodman Theater, this is a good-hearted tribute to the tenacity of endangered family businesses. The terrific cast, featuring Kate Buddeke as a donut-eating cop (of all things) and Jane Alderman as a lonely Uptown eccentric, are hobbled by a script whose entropy undermines their splendid energy. Of course, August: Osage County would be the proverbial hard act to follow. But this too-familiar fare doesn't even put up a fight.
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