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Superior Donuts Written by Tracy Letts --- Directed by Ed Sobel

a study and resource guide by shanna l. tedeschi


Page 2 Playwright Biography: Tracy Letts Pages 3 Workshop: Playwrighting Page 4 Synopsis Pages 5-6 Uptown Chicago: The Home of Superior Donuts Pages 7-8 Facilitated Workshop: “America...Will...Be” Pages 9-10 Vietnam War: Dodging the Draft Pages 11-12 Workshop: You’re in the Army Now Pages 13-14 Production Spotlight: Scenic Design Pages 15-16 Production Spotlight: Costume Design Pages 17-18 Workshop: “Distressing” Costumes


Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma Published Works 2009: Three Sisters (adaptation) 2008: Superior Donuts 2007: August: Osage County 2006: Bug (film version) 2003: Man from Nebraska 1996: Bug (stage version) 1993: Killer Joe Awards 2008: Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play (August: Osage County) 2008: Pulitzer Prize for Drama (August: Osage County) 2008: Tony Award for Best Play (August: Osage County)

playwright biography

Tracy Letts

Mr. Letts often faults writers today for a lack of bravery and is transparent about his own failings. A recvering alcoholic and former pack-a-day smoker who could have majored in profanity had he not dropped out of college, he has a well-earned dark side that mixes with a surprising sweetness and exuberant humor. “He’s nothing like people would picture him to be,” said Amy Morton, a friend and frequent collaborator. Mr. Letts came to his themes as a boy writing stories in the small town of Durant, Okla., where his parents were university professors. (His mother, Billie, now writes novels, including the best-selling “Where the Heart Is.”) Mr. Letts’s influences were the movies: Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino and John Wayne. Mr. Letts grew from “eager-to-please kid into tortured teenager — girls, drugs, depression, hormones” But he also had theater: He read his father’s copies of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and other plays, and he acted in “The Indian Wants the Bronx” and “Skin of Our Teeth.” After a semester in college (“a lot of drugs and drinking”) he quit and headed to Dallas to start acting. Eventually he made his way to Chicago and its robust group of storefront theaters — tiny playhouses on shoestring budgets where stage fights occurred right on top of the audiences. An old union town with lots of theater ensembles, Chicago proved a perfect fit as Mr. Letts began writing scenes for his actor friends; a play always seemed to be going on, and he got by at times using food stamps to buy frozen American Airlines meals in bulk. He became known for emotionally and physically intense performances; on the side, though, he had a mild-mannered job as a temp at an ad agency, writing plays when the bosses weren’t looking. Source: Healy, Patrick. “After ‘Osage’ Accolades, Time to Make Doughnuts.” The New York Times, July 20, 2008.


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Read the playwright biography to discover how Tracy Letts draws from his own life to create his characters, settings and conflicts within his plays. Now, take a moment to think about a very important and influential person in your life. This person can be either a positive or negative presence. Like Tracy Letts, draw from what you know and feel about this person to create a character. Describe how this person looks physically (short, tall, pimples, blue eyes, etc.):

Describe what this person wears often (baggy jeans, diamond earrings, etc):

Describe how this person moves within a space (limping, disruptive, etc.):

Describe how this person speaks (aggressive, lisping, lots of spit, etc.):

Describe how this person makes you feel (excited, afraid, lustful, etc.):

Now, create a new name for this character: ____________________________________________________________________________


SYNOPSIS Arthur Przybyszewski, the proprietor of the Superior Donuts, located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, which is just beginning to emerge from decades of decay and neglect. A vandal has smashed in the front door and painted a nasty slur on the wall as the play opens. But Arthur seems less concerned about the violation than do the beat cops who have come to investigate or the outraged Russian proprietor of the DVD store next door. Arthur’s distracted blue eyes barely register a flicker of emotion as he surveys the damage. But then those eyes stopped searching the horizon for anything in the way of hope, happiness or excitement some time ago. A ponytailed ex-radical in middle age whose life has gone wrong in quiet ways, Arthur is content to drift along peaceably. He’s an amiable shadow of a man; it seems fitting that you can barely read the names of the bands on the rock T-shirts that are a staple of his wardrobe. Although he stubbornly sticks to his routine running the coffee and doughnut dispensary he inherited from his Polish immigrant father, Arthur seems to be fading away, like one of the neighborhood storefronts in desperate need of renovation. An eager contractor for the makeover job arrives in the form of Franco Wicks, a brash young African-American man looking for employment. Brushing past Arthur’s doubts about hiring him, Franco settles in and immediately begins hounding his boss into upgrading the shop. Alternately cajoling and teasing, Franco tosses out suggestions at a brisk clip. How about a poetry night? Some yoga posters on the wall? A few heart-healthier options on the menu?* Franco even suggests that Arthur ask out Randy, a local female cop. Arthur resists. As the two unlikely partners go about their days making and selling donuts, Franco shares a pile of notebooks and legal pads with Arthur--he calls it the “Great American Novel.” Arthur reads it and is impressed; but thoughts of a bright future are far from his mind. Luther and Kevin, local bookies/thugs, pay a visit to Franco that ends with Franco’s face smashed against a table. Franco owes money and Luther wants it now. A few days pass and Franco doesn’t show up for work. Arthur is worried. A visit from local beat cop James revels that Luther came to collect Franco’s debt. Franco lost three fingers in the brawl and his novel has gone up in smoke. Arthur, having new found courage since successfully taking Randy out to dinner, invites Luther to the shop to clear Franco’s debts. After a viscious brawl and $16,000 in a Kotex box, Luther and Kevin leave defeated but paid. At a “Welcome Back” party in the donut shop, Franco discovers that Arthur has sold the shop to neighborhood store-owner Max. Franco doesn’t hear this news lightly. His somber tone scares all other party-goers away. The only thing that brings light into Franco’s eyes again is Arthur, with a notebook, ready to begin the “Great American Novel” again.

*Source: Isherwood, Charles, “Comedy with sprinkles, hold the angst.” The New York Times, October 2, 2009.


Uptown Chicago: the home of Superior donuts More than most neighborhoods, Uptown is a microcosm of Chicago. Like Chicago, it’s a raging mix of elegant and scruffy that ends in a gilded lakefront. Like Chicago, it looks diverse from a distance and balkanized up close. And like Chicago it has not one history but a kaleidoscopeful. Uptown is famous as an immigrant port of entry, but its role as new-media nursery is equally huge. For a decade beginning around 1907, George Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson’s Essanay Studios made silent movies on the site of a former celery farm south of Argyle. Anderson (born Max Aronson in Little Rock) became the world’s first western star in the role of Broncho Billy, a hard guy with a heart of gold. He’s said to have lived the part, riding his horse to the local watering hole. Uptown teenager Gloria Svensson, who started as an extra, also anglicized her name—to Swanson—on the way to stardom. Essanay signed Charlie Chaplin in December 1914, at the beginning of his fame. Chaplin made His New Job in Uptown before leaving Chicago weather behind forever. Even without the allure of movie stars and legal booze, Uptown blossomed in the 1920s as a center for young singles and couples, who lived in small apartments, ate out frequently, and were more than ready to be entertained. The Depression curtailed new construction and an influx of workers during World War II gave property owners ample incentive to slice up their aging buildings.

Uptown has not one history but a kaleidoscopeful.

After the war, the influx continued. When Appalachian coal companies mechanized—mining triple the coal with a quarter as many miners—whole West Virginia clans crammed Uptown apartment houses. When federal bureaucrats began pushing Indians off reservations and into cities, Uptown became a prime destination. When state bureaucrats “deinstitutionalized” thousands of mental patients, Illinois government economized at Uptown’s expense. “By the 1970s,” wrote Loyola professor Ed Marciniak, “the state government had transformed several city neighborhoods into mental wards. . . . The City’s police officers functioned as orderlies.” Other immigrants flocked from Latin America and overseas: China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Iraq.


Diversity? Uptown’s corporate leaders and longtime residents saw only that their once-glittering neighborhood was turning into a slum. They organized as the Uptown Chicago Commission in 1955 and lobbied Mayor Richard J. Daley’s administration to designate Uptown for urban renewal. What urban renewal did accomplish, as DePaul political scientist Larry Bennett points out, was to politicize a neighborhood previously best known for revelry, setting up an endless and inconclusive battle between those who fear Uptown will become a slum and those who fear it will become a replica of Lincoln Park. (Sometimes these two fears inhabit the same person.) Gentrification’s opponents won a key struggle in the early 1990s—arguably one of the great triumphs of Chicago community organizing—by negotiating a ceiling on rents that kept half a dozen high-rises near the lake affordable to their existing tenants. Some of the landlords agreed to stay in the federal program under which the buildings had been built; others were bought out.

Gentrification: (noun) the restoration of run-down urban areas by the middle class, resulting in the displacement of low-income residents.

Yet gentrification proceeds apace, and includes teardowns and condo conversions, tasteful and otherwise. During the 1990s the percentage of lots occupied by condos increased by 102 percent, while the number occupied by apartment buildings actually dropped. Most of the six-flat rentals present in Sheridan Park when it became a historic district 20 years ago have gone condo. Hard as it is to imagine now, in the 1950s and ’60s Montrose Harbor doubled as a Nike missile base, one of three protecting the lakefront from Soviet bombers. The missiles, now long gone, were surrounded by a hedge that survives today. Now known as the Magic Hedge, it’s a refuge for migrating birds (and also, to the great annoyance of some avid birders, for gay men looking to hook up). In A Natural History of the Chicago Region, Joel Greenberg writes about ditching work in the Loop to grab a cab north to spot a brown pelican there. In Uptown you may look for a migrating warbler and find two guys going at it; you may look for a magnificent historic theater and find a board-up; you may look for a homeless shelter and find Pensacola Place. In Uptown you don’t always get what you expect, or expect what you get. Anything else would be suburban. Source:

discussion questions 1. Is gentrification a necessary step in urban revitalization? 2. Does gentrification have to be a negative trend? 3. What are the possibilities for resisting or preventing gentrification? 6


w rkshop “America...Will...Be” “America Will Be” is the title of Franco’s Great American Novel. This novel carries Franco’s experience of the past and his hope for the future. Scribbled on legal pads are characters and scenarios that illuminate what Franco values about a person’s relationship to family, neighborhood and nation. This workshop will assist a group of participants to explore and clarify what their own values are in these same areas. Time Required: 60 minutes Materials Needed: Paper, Pens or Pencils, Index Cards, Tape. Warm-up: 10 minutes Explain to participants that this lesson will help them explore and clarify their values in order to further reflect upon the experiences of the characters in Superior Donuts. Remind them that this lesson is not designed to enforce or suggest values--only to discover and define them for each person. Ask everyone to get out a pen and paper. Inform them that you will give them a series of prompts, and they are to write down the first few words that come into their head. As the facilitator, you can choose any of the following prompts you believe are appropriate to your group: Love feels... Mothers are... Fathers are... The thing I love most about my family is... I hate it when someone... My lover usually... When I was younger I... I love people who... I’ve used aggression or coercion to... I think friendship is... I feel hurt when... Money brings me... My neighborhood is...


Values Clarification Exercise: 20 minutes Now that your participants have begun to think about what is important to them, have everyone assist in clearing away chairs and tables to create an open area. Next, distribute at least three index cards to each person, with a piece of tape so they can affix it to their clothing. Each index card should have a role on it. Examples are:

Father Daughter Husband Aggressor Polish

Mother Son Girlfriend Macho Irish

Grandparent Mentor Boyfriend Pacifist American

Buisness Owner Caretaker Lover Black Immigrant

Laborer Wife Activist White Russian

Once each person has a card, instruct participants to wander around the room, reading the index cards of others. After 5 minutes of wandering, instruct participants that they now have 15 minutes to trade. The rules for trading are as follows: 1. Trade away those roles you value least. 2. Trade for those roles you value most. 3. You MUST trade away at least two roles.

Values Discussion: 20 minutes After 15 minutes of trading, all participants are stuck with whatever index cards they have. Now, have everyone assist in bringing the chairs into a circle for the discussion. Ask your participants:

1. Why did you give away the roles you traded? 2. Why did you obtain the roles you traded for? 3. Which roles did you want but were not able to get? 4. Are there roles in your actual life which you’d like to eliminate? 5. Are there roles that you do not currently play, but would like to?

Closing Reflection: 10 minutes Values Clarification exercises usually leave both participants and faciliator with many things to think about. Remind students about the title of Franco’s novel: “America Will Be.” Prompt them to write this title at the top of a sheet of paper. Using the values that they discovered were important to them, ask participants to write a short reflective paragraph focusing on:

“What will your America be?” 8

Vietnam War

dodging the draft

In Superior Donuts, Arthur tells of how he evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. His father’s last word to him is: “COWARD.” Read this anonymous first-person account of draft dodging and consider-what would you do? “I was a draft dodger. I know this because early in Air Force Basic Training, as my aptly named ‘flight’ stood in formation, my T.I. boomed out, ‘You are all draft dodgers!’ None of us cowards said a word in reply, so it must have been true. At the time, the summer of 1968, enlisting in the Air Force seemed a way to serve my country without dying immediately for somebody named Big Minh. My father was on my Selective Service panel in Buffalo, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I would be drafted, and soon. The Air Force recruiter was happy to see me. Of course, history has shown me to be an idiot. I have since learned there were hundreds of easier ways to duck out, ways so legal and acceptable that I could have gone on to become President of the United States, for either party. For the well-connected, miraculous openings appeared in previously full National Guard units. Dan Qualye, for example, was whisked into a company that was actually barred by law from leaving Indiana. For those with humbler connections, there was improvisation. One of my high school friends cut off a toe with an ax. ‘Camping accident,’ he said at the draft physical, after a long pause.

“One of my high school friends cut off a toe with an axe. ‘Camping accident,’ he said at the draft physical.”

That was good for a 4F, for sure. Of my fraternity brothers, one was a sleepwalker in childhood and had a family doctor who did not want to lose a single patient to Vietnam. Two had asthma; they were delighted. Another had a heart murmur; he was delighted, too. Another confessed to some sexual predilections that were not illegal but definitely would have made Ozzie and Harriet Nelson blush. That worked for a 1Y, which was good until the enemy landed in Florida. 9

One friend tattooed ‘F*CK Y*U’ on his saluting hand. Another ran for eight hours before each draft physical, which wrecked havoc with the blood work; the last time, they called him at 10 p.m. and told him to report the next morning; he ran all night. Still another appeared at his draft physical in a toga, his brown skin painted white; he was arrested on the spot and sent to jail for indecent exposure, and thus picked up a criminal record which disqualified him for service. An active young Republican I met while attending grad school deserves his own paragraph. During Christmas break of his senior year of college, he went to his draft board and voluntarily waived his 2S deferment. The next day, which was the next year, he automatically was rolled into a pool of those who had been 1A in the previous year. By law, no one in that pool could be drafted until all the eligible 1A's from the new year were taken. ‘I would have served if called,’ he told me, with a serious face.” Sources:;

discussion questions 1. Do you think that it’s necessary and fair to require men over the age of 18 to register for the draft? 2. Should women also be required to register? 3. Is the draft a fair way to recruit people during a time of war?

A Notorious Presidential Pardon His Oval Office chair was barely warm when President Jimmy Carter fulfilled a controversial campaign promise on his first day in the White House by issuing a pardon to those who avoided serving in the Vietnam war by fleeing the U.S. or not registering. President Gerald Ford had earlier introduced a conditional amnesty, but Carter, hoping to heal the war's wounds, made no conditions. He did, however, exclude many groups of individuals from the pardon: deserters were not eligible, nor were soldiers who had received less-than-honorable discharges. Also not included were the civilians who had protested the war.


w rkshop You’re in the Army Now Let’s turn the clock back to November 13, 1969. President Nixon has just made the following statement to the Senate: “I know this war is she most difficult and controversial war in our nation’s history.” Since 1968 it had been the longest war in which the U.S. had become involved and more Americans had been killed in Vietnam than in the Korean War. Many Americans were becoming impatient and wanted to put an end to the war. “Let’s bring our boys home was what was being heard across the U.S.” In October, 1969 a Moratorium Day was declared. The Vietnam War was clearly one of the most divisive foreign policy issues of our history.

Choose one of the individuals below as the character you will play in this drama: a. 18 year old high school graduate b. 22 year old college graduate c. 18 year old high school drop out d. 22 year old college graduate who had been active in the ROTC e. 19 year old high school graduate, working a full time job; 23 year old brother has already been killed in Vietnam f. 22 year old college graduate from a military family In today’s mail you have just received notification that they are to report for their physical in order to be classified by the Selective Service. As you hold the paper in your hand think and discuss what your options might be.


The following were various decisions that young men of draftable age made in the 1960’s. Which one will you choose and why? a. Enlist in the branch of service of your choice instead of waiting to be drafted. b. Waited to be drafted, yet hoping your lottery number would be high enough so as not to be called. c. Try and get into the Army Reserves. d. Try and get a conscientious objector status. e. Try and get a medical deferment. f. Leave the United States and move to another country. g. Refuse to go, burn your draft card and suffer the consequences. Write your plan in the space provided below:

discussion questions 1. How did you come to your decision concerning the draft? What factors did you take into consideration? 2. Should individuals give obedience to authority without questioning its morality? 3. Should individuals refuse to be a participant or question anything that they believe is immoral? 4. Would you consider it to be “unAmerican” to refuse to participate in a war you thought to be immoral or unjust? 5. Would you consider it to be “unAmerican” to refuse to participate in a war in which the United States was deliberately attacked on their own soil? 12

Production spotlight

Kevin Depinet: scenic design Kevin Depinet, who is a company member of Steppenwolf Theatre based in Chicago, created the scenic designs for Superior Donuts at Arden Theatre Company. ---- “Other productions of Superior Donuts have approached the play as realism. We’re trying to do something different in this set design--there are no walls in this set.” -Commentary from Ed Sobel, Director

“The audience can’t see the rest of the neighborhood outside the shop.

The outside world is completely abstracted.”


“We hope this will bring people to metaphorical space immediately and show them that

what they are about to see is a fable.� 14

Production spotlight

Alison Roberts: costume design Alison Roberts, who is the Costume Supervisor at Arden Theatre Comapany, created the costume designs for Superior Donuts.

Arthur Przybyszewski: Craig Spidle

Franco Wicks: James William IJames


Lady Boyle: Nancy Boykin

Officer Randy Osteen: Jennifer Barnhart

Max Tarasov: David Mackay

Kiril Ivakin: Ian Bedford

Luther Flynn: Pete Pryor


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“Distressing” costumes The characters in Superior Donuts have been down on their luck and their costumes reflect their varying states of depression. Often, costume designers must take new clothing items and make them appear old, worn and dirty--this is called “distressing.” You may think that this is done by taking the clothing out to the back of the theatre and splashing them in dirty city puddles--but the solution isn’t that easy! What characters in Superior Donuts may require their costumes to be distressed? ______________________________________________________________________________ A costume designer must distress fabric in a way that can last through countless washes in the laundry. That’s right--even when the clothing is clean it must still appear dirty! Below are instructions on how a costume designer accomplishes this: try it yourself--but don’t use your own shirt. Steal one from your roommate.

Step 1: Wear and Tear Use sandpaper or files to distress the fabric in zones most likely to be worn down with time. Bunch up the cuffs of the shirt in your hand and file the edges, fraying the cuffs. File or sand the collar on the inside, where the neck rubs the fabric. Also rip and wear the corners of the collar.

Find seams at the shouders and rip holes in them with a seam ripper or scissors. Also rip the front pocket!

Rip off three buttons or more, leaving the string to hang. File the fabric to show wear. 17

Step 2: Discoloration Put on some gloves to protect your hands from staining. Use this chart to the right to mix the following colors of permanent fabric paint to achieve natural-looking stains. Remember--it may look dull in the mixing cup, but it will probably look too bright on the shirt. Always throw a little more brown, gray or water in the mix! Grass Stain: Very dark green with brownish overtones

Sweat Stain: Yellowish brownish-tannish with extra water

Areas to paint: outside lower arms and the back of the shirt tail hem area. Also, use grassstain-green as a general darkener in spots where dark shadows seem to be needed.

Areas to paint: armpits, the back just below the neck, the neck, the front just below the neck, the cuffs and the inside of the elbows

Mildew Stain: Pale Gray

Dirt/Flilth Stain: Dark, cold brown

Areas to paint: under the arms and down the sides of the arms. Spray around the underside of the pocket, as though something inside had leaked through. Spatter the body of the shirt in several spots as if mold were growing on it.

Areas to paint: hem, cuffs, the collar , the armpits, the outside of the elbows and the front placket. Make the very edges of the cuffs and hem dirtier, and fade the color out as you go higher.

Step 3: Making it Last When the shirt is dry, and the desired look, iron the “dirt� to heat set the paint between two thick dry press cloths. Do not allow paint to come in contact with the iron or the ironing board. Iron on high or cotton setting for 30 seconds per foot. When the paint has been completely set, wet the shirt down again and crumple it up. When the shirt is dry, it will look naturally, not artificially wrinkled. When shirt is dry, apply small amounts of Vaseline to sweat areas with the fingers. Grease the collar, cuffs, pits, top of the front placket, and the back immediately below the neck. Slather on more until you can see the slight shine 10 feet away. Source:


Superior Donuts Study Guide  
Superior Donuts Study Guide  

Supplemental educational information relating to Arden Theatre Company's production of Superior Donuts