After the lacerating force of his Pulitzer-winning drama August: Osage County, the rueful humour and essential benignity of Tracy Letts's follow-up play come as something of a surprise.
In Ned Bennett's beautifully judged UK premiere of the piece, Mitchell Mullen gives a wry, haunting portrayal of submerged guilt and pain as Arthur Przybyszewski, ageing, pony-tailed Sixties radical and proprietor of a run-down donut store in Uptown Chicago.
His business is threatened not only by the shiny new Starbucks and the territorial ambitions of his rotund wideboy Russian neighbour (an amusingly preposterous Nick Cavaliere) but by an emotional defeatism and drift brought on, Arthur's periodic soliloquies suggest, by remorse at his failure as a son, husband, and father and shame at having dodged, rather than resisted, the Vietnam War draft.
Enter new assistant Franco Wicks (excellent Jonathan Livingstone), a dynamic 21 year old African-American with ambitions to make the place hip and healthy and to write the Great American Novel. To be sure, this set-up is a bit formulaic, but the clash of values in the play is continually complicated by the sly comic quirkiness that's so well conveyed by Bennett's strong idiosyncratic cast.
The show takes the “ugh” out of “doughnuts” in more ways than one.
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