Stage & Dance

‘Superior Donuts’ cooks up sweet, filling relationships

Kenneth Hamilton, left, plays a doughnut shop employee and aspiring writer, and Geoffrey Nelson is the shop owner in “Superior Donuts,” opening this weekend at Lexington Downtown Arts Center.
Kenneth Hamilton, left, plays a doughnut shop employee and aspiring writer, and Geoffrey Nelson is the shop owner in “Superior Donuts,” opening this weekend at Lexington Downtown Arts Center.

When the audience hears the play’s title, “Superior Donuts,” artistic director Bo List wants them to feel hungry for “something sweet and filling.”

Because that’s what Tracy Letts’ 2009 comedy is.

AthensWest Theatre Company is producing the play, which tells the story of an older Polish man and his relationship with a young black writer who he hires to work in his doughnut shop.

The play had its world premiere in Chicago by Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It premiered on Broadway in 2009. Letts is the author of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play “August: Osage County.”

In Lexington, “Superior Donuts” is directed by Patrick Kagan-Moore, a professor at Center College with more than 50 years of drama experience.

“It’s a modest play,” Kagan-Moore said. “It’s very generous, very human. Rich in emotion and complexity.”

The nine-member cast is working on that emotion among the characters. Kagan-Moore said it’s “a challenge getting grips on these relationships,” but he’s used to casting actors into their swing zone, “something (the actor) can get their teeth into and be marvelous at.”

Kenneth Hamilton, 21, a theater undergrad student at the University of Kentucky, portrays Franco, the young man hired at the doughnut shop. Franco is a beginning author, trying to earn money and get back into college.

“It’s a really good fit for me,” Hamilton said of his role. “We come from similar backgrounds, and I understand his desire for higher education. This is a big step into my own professional career, my first big-boy show.”

Derek Fugate, 26, performing in his first production, has found similarities in his character.

“Kiril is from Russia and doesn’t know a lot of English,” Fugate said. “He’s a parallel to me. He’s new to America like I’m new to the stage. We both don’t talk a lot in our careers.”

Along with Franco and Kiril, “Superior Donuts” features many other believable characters in a 2009 Chicago winter setting.

“I really enjoy the characters in the show,” Hamilton said. “There are so many walks of life coming together in one community, all united by the shop.”

During the run of “Superior Donuts,” Hamilton will get points to join the Actors Equity Association. AthensWest, which is two years old, is one of only two Lexington theaters that can offer union points. Bo List, artistic director of AthensWest, said it’s one way the company is growing.

“It’s growing artistically, too. We’re telling stories we feel that people need to be told,” List said. “As soon as the play closes, we decide what America is going to do at the polls. ‘Superior Donuts’ is a great story that stirs up things to think about before making this decision.”

In the play, Franco has written a book, “America Will Be,” on legal pads held together by bungee cords. Its a major factor in the relationship between Franco and the shop owner, Arthur.

Franco is the foil to Arthur, played by Geoffrey Nelson. Franco is a dreamer with strong ideas, and Arthur is settled in his age. They’re both stubborn, and the audience can see the difference in their views.

“Arthur fails at it at first,” Nelson said about his character being a mentor to Franco. “It’s inspiring to see people can change. I feel uplifted playing the part.”

If you go

“Superior Donuts,” by Tracy Letts

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22; 2 p.m. Oct. 9; 16, 23

Where: Lexington Downtown Arts Center, 161 N. Mill St.

Tickets: $25-$20. Available at Athenswest.net.

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