Superior Donuts In this play, the taciturn owner of a donut shop in Chicago with few customers hires an African-American male to assist him, and they develop a prickly relationship. Playwright Tracy Letts tackles a multiplicity of themes: racism, the gangster underworld, addiction, the rise of Starbucks and Vietnam-era draft evasion. We meet first the owner of an adjacent shop (Scott Holmes) and two police officers, investigating vandalism. Holmes delivers an interesting and credible characterization, and Osbie Shephard as the male officer is commanding and authentic. The female officer, played by Vicky McCormick, is courting Arthur, the donut shop's owner (John William Stevens), but McCormick seems to be still searching for her character, so the play includes an unconvincing romance. Stevens is a powerful actor, but the script unfortunately calls for him to change his mood and motivation almost capriciously. Sam Flash plays Franco, the young African-American, and is brash as required, but the chemistry between him and Arthur never quite materializes. Flash and Stevens anchor the play and nail some eloquent moments. There is considerable humor in the form of one-liners. A lot happens in Act Two, most of it implausible, and the comedy turns ugly toward the end, but playwright Letts tugs at our heartstrings, so there are rays of light in the midst of cowardice, brutality and penury. The play reeks of nostalgia for a bygone Chicago — that may have been the appeal in writing it. Directed by Trevor B. Cone, the work has a slow pace that creates a sense of naturalism. Through September 29. Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — JJT

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