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Mary-Arrchie’s superior ‘Donuts’ revival sprinkled with timely ideas

Richard Cotovsky (right) PrestTate Jr. Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.'s producti'Superior Donuts' by Tracy Letts directed by Matt Miller. | Phoby Sid

Richard Cotovsky (right) and Preston Tate Jr. in Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.'s production of "Superior Donuts" by Tracy Letts, directed by Matt Miller. | Photo by Sid Branca

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When: Through Nov. 25

Where: Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. at the Royal George Cabaret, 1641 N. Halsted

Tickets: $50

Info: (312) 988-9000;

Updated: December 8, 2012 6:12AM

Tracy Letts the actor is now wowing Broadway audiences with his portrayal of George in the Steppenwolf Theatre revival of “Who’s Afraid of Viginia Woolf?” But Tracy Letts the playwright, who received a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for his 2007 drama “August: Osage County,” is wowing Chicago audiences these days, thanks to an exceptionally fine revival of his play “Superior Donuts.”

The drama debuted at Steppenwolf just a year after “August,” subsequently moved to Broadway and has since received a more revealing and intimate staging by Mary-Arrchie Theatre, the veteran Off-Loop company.

Not surprisingly, “Donuts” became the best-selling production in Mary-Arrchie’s 27-year history when it played at the company’s Sheridan Road home and the Metropolis Theatre in Arlington Heights. Now, with most of the original Mary-Arrchie actors reprising their roles under Matt Miller’s ideally deep-fried direction, “Superior Donuts” is ideally wedged into the intimate Royal George Cabaret Theatre, directly across the street from Steppenwolf. And not only is it tremendously “engaging” (to borrow a word from Letts’ play), but it suggests this is a work that thrives in precisely such a close-up and personal venue.

Letts’ play, which careens between comedy and tragedy and is uncannily suited to this moment, is about many facets of the American dream as it looks at how race, class, history, immigrants, innate genius, bad habits, pop culture, optimism and violence all feed into the crazy business of success and failure in this country. And the marvelous actors here inhabit their roles — as well as the terrific down-on-its-luck donut-shop set designed by Jennifer Thuysing and Bob Groth — to perfection.

The place is Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, within rumbling distance of the Wilson Avenue L stop. The Starbucks-threatened donut shop is owned by Arthur Przybyszewski (Richard Cotovsky in a role he was born to play), the son of Polish immigrants. Now an aging hippie, complete with pony tail, beard and depressed spirit, he fled to Canada after being drafted for the war in Vietnam, returned to Chicago after the 1977 amnesty, married and divorced, and has been estranged from his teenage daughter for five years.

Enter Franco Wicks (Preston Tate Jr., in a light-up-the-stage performance that earned him a Jeff nomination and should make him a major contender here). A college dropout in search of a job, he has a fierce entrepeneurial spirit, a sparkling intelligence and a pile of ragged notebooks filled with the only copy of his first novel, “America Will Be.”

Arthur and Franco ultimately will bring each other back from despair, but not before they endure a great deal of pain that is leavened by Letts’ unique brand of humor.

Moving through the shop are a slew of streetwise characters, all played with great zest, including Randy (Millie Hurley, irresistible as the tough cop with a crush on Arthur); Max (Paige Smith as the Russian immigrant who owns the neighboring video store); Luther (Karl Potthoff as the gangster with an ulcer), and Lady (Joanna Maclay as an aging alcoholic bag lady).

Letts’ play is a fine companion piece to David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” the must-see play running at Steppenwolf through Nov. 17.

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