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Mary-Arrchie takes Superior Donuts to the Royal George Theatre

The Lakeview theater takes a chance on a commercial transfer of the best-selling production in its history.

Photograph: Greg Rothman
Richard Cotovsky in Superior Donuts at Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company

“I’ve never been involved in a show at Mary-Arrchie where people kept talking about it this long after we’d closed,” Richard Cotovsky says.

In last season’s [node:15128733 link=Superior Donuts;], Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company’s artistic director starred as burned-out doughnut-shop proprietor Arthur Przybyszewski. Cotovsky has a long history with Tracy Letts’s Uptown-set dramedy: He understudied Michael McKean for the same role in the play’s 2008 debut at Steppenwolf, and anchored a subsequent production at Washington, D.C.’s Studio Theatre before Mary-Arrchie opened a second Chicago production in February.

Donuts’ initial six-week run at Angel Island, Mary-Arrchie’s 50-seat second-floor walk-up space in East Lakeview, sold out quickly, says the company’s producing director, Carlo Garcia. “We basically doubled the run to 12 weeks, and I think there was only one or two performances that weren’t at full capacity,” he says.

The production became the best-selling show in Mary-Arrchie’s 27-year history. “Throughout the run, people would say to us, ‘Are you gonna move it?’ ” Cotovsky says on the phone from his day job as a pharmacist, pausing at one point to dispense a prescription. “We’d never really done that, as far as a commercial transfer.”

Following a well-received two-week remount at the invitation of Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Centre for the Performing Arts in July, the company began to seriously consider a move. “You always hear about these moves, and usually some other producer’s involved,” Cotovsky says.

They spoke with Chicago Dramatists managing director Brian Loevner, who, with partners Aurelia Fisher and Monty Cole, launched a new company called the Chicago Commercial Collective for the purpose of shepherding hits from the city’s midsize nonprofit theaters into commercial venues. The group’s first production, a remount of Keith Huff’s police drama A Steady Rain with its original 2007 cast, played Dramatists this summer and now is touring Wisconsin and Michigan. “In my capacity working with writers here, I saw so many productions close before they should have—close with waiting lists of people to see them, or close just because another show had to move in,” Loevner says. “This is really a need in the community.”

When the two groups weren’t able to work out a deal, Cotovsky and company decided to go for it on their own. Donuts director Matt Miller was keen on the Royal George Theatre after seeing Profiles Theatre’s successful transfer there of another Letts work, Killer Joe. Superior Donuts will play four weeks in the Royal George’s cabaret theater, with most of Mary-Arrchie’s original cast intact. At 193 seats, the space has almost four times the capacity of the intimate Angel Island.

The transfer also comes with a significant hike in ticket prices, with a standard admission of $50, more than double the original top ticket. But Cotovsky and Garcia say that high base price is intended to allow for many tickets to be sold at a discount via HotTix and Goldstar.

“I’m basically backing the risk, because I have the foundation to do it personally,” Cotovsky says. With the broader exposure for the company he founded and the potential profits that could be pumped back into Mary-Arrchie’s future productions, he says, the risk is worth it. “If the numbers come in, the possibility of revenue is immense. But we’re not necessarily counting on that. We’re hoping to break even.”

Now in previews, Superior Donuts opens at the Royal George Friday 2.

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