Waco Civic Theatre’s upcoming production of “Superior Donuts” employs a central theme that locals may find particularly appetizing. In essence, it is a show about a small community, it is playing at a community theater, performed by members of a close-knit community, all with the help of businesses and sponsors who are part of that same community: Waco.
The play tells the story of a former radical hippie, who lives in a small section of Chicago and runs a local donut shop. In a twist of fate, he meets and employs a young, aspiring African-American writer and the two form an unlikely friendship. The two quickly bond through each other’s struggles, as well as the struggles of the neighborhood, facing problems such as a Starbucks threateningly opening across the street from the independently owned eatery.
“Everywhere you look nowadays, chain stores are taking over and driving out mom-and-pop businesses, which is good in some cases, but it can also put a cramp in a small-businessman and a community,” said Eric Shephard, executive director of Waco Civic Theatre and director of the show. “One of the things that attracted me to the play was that it’s not a comedy and it’s not a drama; it’s both, and it’s got a lot of heart in it.”
Since first seeing the show in 2009 on Broadway, Shephard said he had been waiting for the right opportunity to direct it. After proposing the production, which he sometimes refers to as “the best play you’ve never heard of,” the theater’s artistic advising committee went through its usual procedure of discussing and voting on the ideas, eventually agreeing with Shephard to include it in the theater’s season this year.
The predominately male cast, something Shephard said gives the play a different energy, includes a well-rounded mixture of volunteers from Waco, some new to the Civic Theatre and some who have been involved for quite some time.
“I’ve been volunteering at the theater for over 20 years now, ever since I moved here,” said Win Emmons, cast member and longtime volunteer. “Around here I do everything from building sets to sweeping floors. I put the marquis up, and I’ve also performed in many of the shows.”
Emmons, a local schoolteacher, said he began his work at the theater reluctantly, after his son dragged him to audition for a play. He decided to be in one show, became smitten with the entire process and has been there ever since.
In the essence of a true local theater, several Waco businesses have even made donations to help support the “Superior Donuts” cause. Two in particular are Starbucks, which will be supplying drinks at the play’s reception, and Shipley Donuts, which donated many of the props and stage materials.
“It really puts the ‘community’ in community theater when local businesses offer to lend a hand,” Emmons said. “It’s always nice to see locals working as a team. Starbucks is donating coffee even though there are a lot of jokes about them in the play.”
Comedy combined with serious drama is another aspect that makes the show so alluring, Shephard said.
“The most fun thing about the play, which is also a challenge, is the fact that the dialogue is so funny,” Shephard said. “The actors even have trouble rehearsing sometimes because they can’t help but laugh. But the play also deals with some heavy issues. I think it’s about a person who finds bravery in life to stand up for something and for someone, finding in himself courage he never knew he had.”
Emmons said the play includes commentary on the omnipresent concept of the American dream. Every character has a different idea of what the American dream actually is, he explained. It serves as an undertone to the entire show and comes through in each of the actors’ dialogue, whether it’s witty banter or heartfelt commentary.
“It will make you laugh, and it will make you gasp, and there’s something wrong with you if it doesn’t make you cry as well,” Emmons said. “But overall it’s a very well-rounded play and we’re hopeful that the audience will be taken in by the story.”