Tracy Letts' new play is a kinder, gentler work than August: Osage County, but still retains the playwright's gift for sharp dialogue and incisive characterization.
To be sure, as with Letts' other work, there is plenty of conflict and even violence within the play. It opens with police officers Randy (Kate Buddeke) and James (James Vincent Meredith) investigating a break-in at the donut shop owned and operated by Arthur Przybyszewski (Michael McKean), features an off-stage beating that lands one character in the hospital, and includes an onstage fistfight (which is admittedly badly choreographed by Rick Sordelet -- or at least badly executed -- and is one of the few missteps within the production).
But the main focus of the play is the friendship that develops between Arthur, an aging hippie who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, and his new 21-year-old African-American employee Franco Wicks (Jon Michael Hill), an aspiring novelist who also happens to have a massive gambling debt that he's trying to pay off. Their scenes together are the play's finest, and McKean and Hill have an easy rapport that gives a lift to Letts' already crackling lines.
Arthur is the more laid-back of the two, and McKean's understated portrayal is both humorous and richly layered. The play includes several monologues in which Arthur details his life history, including his tempestuous relationship with his father, his flight to Canada in the 1960s, and his failed marriage. These allow McKean to reveal the depths of Arthur's sense of failure and loss, and help to explain why he comes across to others as withdrawn. Hill brings a vibrancy to his role that is pleasurable to watch. He walks with a bounce in his step and it's easy to see how his presence serves as a positive influence on Arthur, allowing the older man to come out of his shell. Yet, Franco's outward bravado belies an inward uncertainty, which Hill also occasionally lets the audience glimpse.