'Superior Donuts' set for regional premiere at Corn Stock

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We all know the wonderful smell that greets us when we walk into a donut shop. Something that pleasant can only mean good things, right?

When you walk into Corn Stock Theatre's Winter Playhouse to see the final show of its 2013-14 season, the same smell will permeate the air. But aside from that, there won't be much sweetness in what the shop set up inside the theater will be offering.

"This is no flight of fancy. This show is gritty," said Alex Larson, director of "Superior Donuts," which is making its regional premiere starting Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the theatre center in Upper Bradley Park. "It does have a lot of humor, but the story line is about our culture and how it has had to evolve through a lot of issues. It's real, there is no question about that. That's why I wanted to do it."

Based in an outdated and rundown donut shop in Chicago, "Superior Donuts" tells the story of shop owner Arthur Prsybyszewski, an aging hippie who is meandering through what is left of his life, and Franco, an energetic young man who talks his way into a job at the donut shop with an eye toward updating it.

Mix in several other characters, a word that in this case could be an understatement, a "Superior Donuts" is a reminder that all of us, though different, have a role in life that affects all those around us.

Written by Tracy Letts, who also wrote "August, Osage County" and other hit dramas, "Superior Donuts" looks at such human condition issues as race, healthy eating, homelessness, gambling addictions, gangs, depression, and even love. But it doesn't get preachy about any of those subjects; in fact, the only one that generates much more than a smattering of dialogue is race and that is because Arthur is white, Franco is African-American.

Some of the best and even funniest dialogue between Arthur and Franco centers on Franco's questioning whether his new boss is racist or just stubborn.

"What we get in this play is not only an evolution of story lines but we see real evolutions in the characters. It's tough to explain but audiences will see it in every character," Larson said. "Everybody in the cast, every character, has a reason for being there. Sure, the focus is on Arthur and Franco but it has human touch for all of the characters."

Larson said he believes audiences will be able to relate in some way to the characters; if not who they are, than in the dialogue. "It has some really funny dialogue that touches home," he said.

Portraying Arthur Prsybyszewski is Bob Grimson, a veteran of many Corn Stock shows but now playing his largest role to date. Larson said it's as if the role was written for Grimson, a former history teacher and journalist. "Here we have Arthur, who lived through the turmoil of the 60s, and Bob knows well what happened in those days. He knows the times, he knows the way they affected people. He's great as Arthur," he said.

Brian McKinley, seen last fall in "Relatively Speaking," portrays Franco and brings to the role an energy and cockiness befitting the character.

Seth Katz, a professor at Bradley University who speaks four languages and a veteran of the Corn Stock stage, isn't playing around when he speaks Russian as Max, who owns the appliance shop next door and wants desperately to buy the donut shop space so he can expand.

Christine Takata makes her Corn Stock debut in the role of Randy, a police officer with a thing for Arthur, and stage veteran Eric Gore is her Star Trek-loving partner James. GayNell German portrays the homeless character Lady, who can pack a whollop in just a small bit of dialogue each time she's on stage, Michael Wohl as Luther and Scott O'Neal as Kevin are the bad guys in this show and Chris Herring is Max's enforcer.

The set was built by Brian Peelle, who succeeded in turning the small Corn Stock space into what could be a working donut shop.

"I have the smartest cast anywhere, I think. I have a history teacher/journalist, a professor who speaks four languages, a recent biology graduate from Bradley (McKinley) a lawyer (Takata), an antique dealer (Wohl) and a guy with a film degree from Columbia (O'Neal). And they all do a great job with this script," Larson said.

"Superior Donuts" is performed at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. on March 21 and 22 and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 23.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and can be reserved by calling the Corn Stock Theatre box office at 676-2196.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).