Arthur is a reclusive ageing hippy, running the last remaining independent doughnut shop in a rough Chicago neighbourhood. Thinks are looking increasingly difficult for Arthur as he struggles to even bother to turn up for work in the run down family business where a trickle of customers still come for coffee, spending his time smoking dope in the back of the shop, ignoring the Russian neighbour intent on buying him out and thinking about the past. A break-in leads to him meeting naïve and annoyingly exuberant 21 year-old, Franco, intent on upgrading the place to a literary café complete with poetry readings. Unfortunately, Franco has issues of his own and brings as many problems along as he resolves.
Tracy Letts, author of the harsh and gritty “Killer Joe” and the recently filmed dysfunctional family drama “August: Osage County”, has come up with an unusual play which is part classic American sit-com and part moody meditation on a past full of regrets. This play receives its U.K. premiere at Southwark but is a different beast from Letts’ other works. Although funny in parts, the humour doesn’t always translate well for a British audience and the recognisable characters (old hippy, tough talking bag lady, sports-fan policewoman) are ones that feel a little tired and less instantly well known outside of the world of American sitcoms. Jokes often fell flat and although there were highly amusing moments there were also uncomfortable silences on occasions when lines that were clearly meant to be funny were delivered.
The things that elevated the piece above mere mediocre sit-com were the emotional monologues delivered by Arthur, direct to the audience and the strong performances. Mitchell Mullen, as Arthur, portrays a believable and poignant character that elicits empathy with ease. His range of emotions is portrayed in an understated way with strong effect. Nick Cavaliere and Sarah Ball put in well-rounded comedic performances that add to the piece. Jonathan Livingstone is over-stated and bouncy as Franco; something the part seems to demand.
The tiny bakery is well realised as a starkly lit shabby little place with sound effects that could almost make me think I was weathering a blustery Chicago day.
The play may be less superior than its title suggests but is still worth catching for the cast and production values.