Theater on the Edge serves up a gleefully glazed, piping-hot production of 'Superior Donuts'

Allan Whitehead and Neila Lake in Superior Donuts
Allan Whitehead and Neila Lake in Superior Donuts Photo by Monica Mulder

Summer is nearly here, and with it comes an annual slowdown in local theaters. The lull leaves us time to look back at some recently announced show slates for the 2017-2018 theatrical season:

Orlando Repertory Theatre

The Orlando Rep ambitiously opens their 15th season in September with Disney's hit musical Newsies, which just ended its national tour last fall. That's followed in October by Polkadots, a "cool kids musical" about racial segregation, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical in November. Flora & Ulysses, adapted from Kate DiCamillo's award-winning book, opens in January 2018, with Madagascar: A Musical Adventure and Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt capping the season in February and April, respectively. Short-time special engagements include a Mr. Richard Halloween concert and Tony Brent's anti-bullying magic show in January.

Beth Marshall Presents

Producer Beth Marshall is holding auditions on June 25 and 26 for her entire 10th season, including February's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which was announced in March on the Garden Theatre's schedule. Marshall is also seeking talent for September's annual Play-in-a-Day, plus Paul Rudnick's Most Fabulous Story Ever Told in December and a New Works workshop series of playwriting contest winners. Marshall also plans to mount Save Me, Dolly Parton and Friday Night in America at the 2018 Orlando Fringe, lottery willing.

Parliament House Footlight Theatre

In April, Tim Evanicki announced 11 titles for the 2017-2018 season at Footlight Theatre at the Parliament House, starting with the currently running Rent Boy: The Musical. Jeff Jones' Little Miss Rainbow Sunshine pageant parody is up next in July, and Daddy Issues, an unnamed musical, Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey (directed by Eric Pinder) and Debbie Does Dallas (directed by Adam McCabe) will fill out 2017. Next year features Tales From the Dressing Room with Darcel Stevens, Greg Coffin's Convenience, Joe DiPietro's F*cking Men, Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons and Skip Stewart's 7 Deadly Campy Sins.

Annie Russell Theatre

The mainstage at Rollins College returns in September for its 85th season with the political musical The Cradle Will Rock. Kate Hamill's new adaptation of Sense and Sensibility premieres in November, the terrorism docudrama The Women of Lockerbie runs in February, and 9 to 5: The Musical ends the school year in April. Student-directed productions of Eleemosynary, The Flick and On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning will also be presented in October, February and April.

Superior Donuts at Theater on the Edge

Luckily, not every troupe has taken off for the summer. Right now through July 2, up-and-coming company Theater on the Edge is serving up a gleefully glazed, piping-hot production of Superior Donuts. Aging ex-hippie Arthur Przybyszewski (Allan Whitehead) has spent most of his 60 years assiduously avoiding conflict, whether dodging the Vietnam War draft or deflecting his neighbor Max's (Robb Maus) entreaties to sell his struggling Chicago doughnut shop. Arthur is so averse to unpleasantness, he barely interacts with the cops (Cecilia Gazzara, Mark Kelly) investigating the vandalism of his restaurant. But Arthur's reticence is disrupted by Franco Wicks (Sean Philippe), an underprivileged teen who talks his way into employment and ends up becoming a surrogate son. When Wicks runs afoul of the neighborhood bookie (Marco DiGeorge) and his goon (Zack Roundy), Arthur must finally leave the sidelines and stand up for something.

Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, which had a brief run on Broadway in 2009, is probably the most accessible play from an author better known for the brutal dramas Bug and Killer Joe. In fact, the storyline is so sitcom-like in its setup that CBS spun it off into a half-hour comedy starring Judd Hirsch. But dig beneath the comic facade and you'll find a script grappling with questions of color, class and the cruel edge of the American dream. At the heart of the show is the relationship between Arthur, the cynical second-generation Polish immigrant, and Franco, the ambitious African-American teen. The pair's interaction evolves from witty odd-couple patter to something more profound as they bond despite barriers of race and age. The two leads are terrific, especially Philippe, a stand-up comic whose kinetic hyperverbalism recalls a young Chris Tucker; his emotional final interaction with Whitehead adds unexpected weight to the ambiguous ending.

However, director Pam Harbaugh hasn't struck quite the right balance of humor and humanity with the rest of her cast. Arthur's romantic interludes with his police paramour are cringe-worthy in their juvenile goofiness, and scenes with the antagonists are undermined by inconsistent accents and unconvincing combat.

Perhaps this production's biggest problem is its greatest asset; designer Samantha DiGeorge's hyper-realistic set is so authentic, you'll be tempted to order a dozen during intermission. But with the ultra-realistic environment come agonizingly slow scene changes that rob the show of momentum and inflate the running time by nearly 30 minutes beyond the Broadway version.

Theater on the Edge hit home runs with their last two shows, so there's no shame in scoring a solid triple this time. Even if the cake underneath this confection is undercooked, the fantastically funny frosting is well worth the calories.


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