Tracy Letts' Plays, Large and Small, Fill Dallas Theaters with Characters in Stages of Crisis

Categories: Theater Caps

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Ruby Westfall and Nancy Sherrard in August: Osage County.

On Monday night, April 2, WaterTower Theatre opens the first local production of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer- and Tony-winning masterpiece, August: Osage County. The sprawling drama has been compared with O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. Imagine O'Neill's troubled Tyrone family turned into the wacked-out Westons of Oklahoma.

The WaterTower show, directed by René Moreno, boasts a roster of Dallas' top theater actors: Pam Dougherty as violently pill-addicted mother Violet Weston; Nancy Sherrard as Aunt Mattie Fae; and as the Weston daughters, Sherry Jo Ward, Kristin McCollum and Jessica Cavanagh. Husbands and cousins are played by Chris Hury, James Crawford, Clay Yocum and Tom Lenaghen. All come with impressive résumés onstage and in independent film. (For a full family tree for this production, WaterTower has this handy graphic.)

August: Osage County is a gigantic play, acted on a two-story set inside the Weston house. But Letts also works theatrical magic with a small cast and a small setting in his newer script, Superior Donuts, currently getting a supremely well-acted staging at Theatre Too (below Theatre Three in The Quadrangle).

The 80-seat theater has become a detail-specific Chicago doughnut shop, the old-timey kind with a couple of round tables, a counter with stools and some half-empty coffee pots. Owner Arthur Przybyszewski (played with quiet intensity by Van Quattro) inherited the place from his immigrant parents and is running it with equal parts ennui and apathy. If he has doughnuts, fine; if he doesn't, who cares?

After a neighborhood vandal attacks the shop, Arthur has to make some tough decisions about staying or going. Then he meets Franco Wicks (the always dynamic Chris Piper), a 21-year-old budding novelist who has big ideas about Superior Donuts becoming Chicago's new home of poetry slams, art exhibits and chakra readings. "You really think I'm missing out on those big poet dollars?" says Arthur, looking as glazed over as some of his stale pastries.

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Photo by Jeff Schmidt
Van Quattro in Superior Donuts
It's a funny little play, full of long runs of dialogue that ring true and hit home. Arthur steps out of scenes to deliver monologues about his own life. He's divorced, estranged from his teenage daughter and so up in his own loneliness he doesn't notice that the cute beat cop (Brandi Andrade, using a Fargo accent) is flirting her head off with him.

Directed by Bruce Coleman, Superior Donuts is a sweet, funny, provocative piece of theater. Letts allows his characters to crack wise about racism, petty crime and corporate greed (there's a Starbucks across the street from Arthur's shop and even he goes there for good coffee). Turns out Franco's a bit of a gambler and his debts are piling up. Arthur gets involved in a dust-up with Franco's bookie (Bill Jenkins, usually cast as a good guy, play a creepy-slick mob type, with Daylon Walton terrific as his shiny-haired bodyguard).
Out of their troubles, Arthur and Franco become friends. Our friends. We like them and want them to connect.

That's Letts' great gift as a playwright. He creates characters we want to know (even the nasty ones) and spend time with, listening to every word they have to say.
Between Superior Donuts and August: Osage County, you can spend about five hours with people Tracy Letts has created. It's time well spent.

Superior Donuts continues through April 15 at Theatre Too. Call 214-871-3300 for tickets. August: Osage County plays in previews this weekend and opens officially on Monday, April 2, running through April 22 at Addison's WaterTower Theatre. You can bring a cheap date on its opening week when WaterTower offers buy one get one free seats (Offer is good for shows on April 2, 4, 5 and 6.) For tickets, call 972-450-6232, or visit here and enter code BOGO.

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