Chris Francisque as Franco Wicks in the Ensemble Theatre Company production of Superior Donuts. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Chris Francisque as Franco Wicks in the Ensemble Theatre Company production of Superior Donuts. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Vancouver’s Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) returns to the Jericho Arts Centre with a trio of plays for the seventh edition of its Summer Repertory Festival.

Joining Canadian playwright Michael Healey’s rural drama The Drawer Boy and Garson Kanin’s political satire Born Yesterday on alternating nights is Tracy Letts’ comedy, Superior Donuts.

Set in a run-down family doughnut shop in Chicago, Superior Donuts is the story of former sixties radical Arthur Przybyszewski who sees his bakery transformed when he hires Franco Wicks, a young black man looking to change his shop for the better.

“Arthur has gotten to a point in his life where he no longer has any hope, and through the friendship with this young man he finds reasons to hope again,” says director Keltie Forsyth.

No stranger to having adapted his plays to film, including his darkly funny Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County, in 2016 Superior Donuts received the sitcom treatment from CBS. But while Forsyth says there may be a sitcom rhythm to Superior Donuts, it is in no way vapid.

"There's nothing actually happily ever after about this story. It's much more a story about facing the darkness in life and moving on anyway, because there's also lightness there." - director Keltie Forsyth
“There’s nothing actually happily ever after about this story. It’s much more a story about facing the darkness in life and moving on anyway, because there’s also lightness there.” – director Keltie Forsyth

“It’s a very intelligent script, and ultimately it’s about these men who are clever, well-read, intelligent people, both kind of fish-out-of-water in their own way, and really finding joy in each other, their friendship, and in what happens when they have a bit of a meeting of the minds,” she says.

Taking on the role of Franco is Chris Francisque, who Vancouver audiences may remember from his work in the SpeakEasy Theatre production of The Shipment in 2017, a play that had a profound effect on the actor.

“I wasn’t anticipating actually doing any theatre for quite some time as The Shipment really elevated my expectation for theatre going forward,” he says. “The Shipment was pretty much the definitive piece of theatre that I’ve done in my career. It was so monumental and it’s something I don’t think that Vancouver had ever seen before with an all-Black cast.”

Approached by a number of other companies with projects after The Shipment closed, it wasn’t until he read the script for Superior Donuts that Francisque knew it was something he wanted to be part of. Seeing a substance and depth to the play’s complex characters, he also saw parallels between Franco and himself.

“We’re both very sort of blunt and matter-of-fact, there’s not much sugar-coating in how we speak,” explains Francisque. “If someone asks our opinion, we’re give you that raw and unfiltered.”

"Superior Donuts has substance and depth, and the characters are actually very complex. It's what made me jump back into it, because when I read the script it was very obvious that this was not like every other show that I've read." - actor Chris Francisque
“Superior Donuts has substance and depth, and the characters are actually very complex. It’s what made me jump back into it, because when I read the script it was very obvious it was not like every other show that I’ve read.” – actor Chris Francisque

While primarily a story of Arthur and Franco, Superior Donuts actually features a cast of nine. It is one of the reasons Forsyth finds herself back at ETC again, having directed In the Next Room or the vibrator play in 2017.

“It is hard for any company to put nine people onstage, and ETC has this incredible ambition for getting groups of actors together to do these large-cast shows,” she says. “I admire what ETC brings to the community in terms of its willingness to do plays which I think otherwise probably wouldn’t get done. And they are exciting, intelligent scripts, so it’s a real pleasure to take them on.”

But while ETC provides audiences with an opportunity to see three rarely produced plays in its summer season, with Superior Donuts there is an opportunity to perform a play that focuses on both humanity and hope.

“In a time right now in which people see things very black and white, we’ve lost the ability to see nuance in anything,” says Francisque. “This play makes people realize that there’s a reason for the behaviors of everyone, whether it’s good or bad. If you can see that, you’ll begin to see more humanity in people and realize the nuance and flawed elements of people, rather than just seeing them as a black and white.”

“This play was written ten years ago, in the wake of the election of Obama, and it reflects the hope of the times, and I have to say, it’s really lovely to be back in a universe that’s full of hope,” adds Forsyth “It’s also a reminder that it is our relationships with the people in our lives that make life worth living.”

Superior Donuts plays in repertory with The Drawer Boy and Born Yesterday as part of Ensemble Theatre Company’s Summer Repertory Festival on stage at the Jericho Arts Centre from July 10 through August 16. Visit ensembletheatrecompany.ca for tickets and information.