Tracy Letts wanted to follow up his Pulitzer Prize–winning August: Osage County with a play that would explore new territory—specifically, the city of Chicago. The result was Superior Donuts, which Letts calls a “love letter” to the city that has been his home for more than two decades. It’s also a celebration of friendship, community and the American melting pot, and you don’t have to be from Chicago to enjoy it.

This month, Superior Donuts is making its regional debut at TheatreWorks. Leslie Martinson directs, while Howard Swain stars as Arthur Przybyszewski, the aging owner of the small Uptown donut shop where all the action takes place. Sloppy, forlorn and apathetic, this character doesn’t even seem to care when he finds that someone has vandalized his already decrepit shop.

Things change when a new employee, Franco Wicks (Lance Gardner), arrives on the scene. Franco is everything that Arthur is not: enthusiastic, opinionated and, above all, hopeful. He envisions an updated Superior Donuts that would offer “heart-healthy” alternatives and host poetry slams, regenerating the shop’s dwindling clientele.

These ideas seem to have no place in Arthur’s world; hope is not something he has felt since his days as ’60s radical, and he no longer believes that things can change for the better. But even as he butts heads with Franco, the two become friends and are bound to change each others’ lives.

The relationship between the older Polish-American Arthur and the younger African American Franco may sound like sitcom fodder, but Swain and Gardner manage to elevate it beyond that, and while the exchanges between them are hilarious, they are also infused with realism.The supporting cast is also wonderful. Julia Brothers and Michael J. Asberry play a couple of police officers who frequent Superior Donuts. Søren Oliver portrays Max Tarasov, a boorish Russian immigrant who runs a DVD shop next door. Joan Mankin is Lady Boyle, a homeless woman to whom Arthur gives free donuts, and Gabriel Marin plays a slimy gangster who is trying to collect a gambling debt from Franco. These actors manage to create unique personalities where only mere stock characters might have existed, rounding out a remarkably heartwarming production that is sentimental without being too sticky-sweet.

Superior Donuts
Through Oct. 31
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
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