Geva Theatre’s production of “Superior Donuts” crafts perfect combination of heart and humor

Time is winding down to see Geva Theatre’s production of “Superior Donuts,” but this funny, quietly explosive tour de force is one that can’t be missed.

The play follows an old hippie named Arthur who runs a doughnut shop in Chicago, Ill. Arthur, who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War, is haunted by what he sees as his own cowardice.

Cue an enterprising college dropout named Franco Wicks who practically wrenches a job from Arthur’s reluctant hands. Franco has about a billion ambitious ideas for improving the shop, but his real dream is to get his “great American novel” published. At first, Arthur resists Franco’s exuberant optimism, but eventually learns to hope again and fight for what matters.

For a comedy, the show has an astounding – and at times devastating – amount of heart. The dexterous wit of the dialogue never obscures the genuine emotion that permeates each scene.

Playwright Tracy Letts’ command over storytelling is incredible. He draws in viewers with his irresistibly likable characters, so that when they triumph, their joy is tangible, and when he drops the hammer on them, it’s breathtakingly painful.

Skip Greer disappears into the role of Arthur, using his scraggly beard and shuffling slouch as walls to keep out other people. James Holloway is fantastic as the enthusiastic Franco Wicks whose open and friendly demeanor makes him the perfect person to draw the hermetic Arthur out of his shell. This perfect foil relationship makes the bond between Arthur and Franco feel as real as if audience members are peering through a storefront into actual people’s lives.

Even the smaller characters are remarkably genuine, including a delightful Mary Jo Mecca as hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside Officer Randy Osteen. Jeffrey Evan Thomas appears in only two scenes as a giant Russian thug, but even he is allowed a few sweet, show-stealing moments.

Part of what makes “Superior Donuts” seem so intimate and real is the set, which looks so much like a real doughnut shop that it is tempting to go up and sit on one of the stools at the counter. The actors work with real props like coolers, paint and coffee machines, so the action onstage is rarely static.

“Superior Donuts” will run until Sunday April 29. Tickets start at $25 and can be reserved by calling (585) 232-4382 or visiting Geva’s website at Student rush tickets are available for $10 with a student ID for all non-sold-out performances beginning 15 minutes before curtain time. If you see nothing else at Geva for the rest of your time at Geneseo, this unforgettable show is the one to catch.