While San Diego theatergoers have come to know actor Robert Foxworth for his epic roles at the Old Globe Theatre
(like last summer's King Lear), the role he's taking on this month at San Diego Repertory Theatre is a far cry from that Shakespearean king.
Foxworth, an Encinitas resident, plays the lead role in the San Diego premiere of Tracy Letts' "Superior Donuts" (Letts won the Tony and the Pulitzer for his bleak family drama "August: Osage County").
"This is vastly different from the things I've done recently," Foxworth said. "This is more a kitchen sink drama. But I thought that would be a challenge, and I've always liked challenges."
Foxworth is playing Arthur Przybyszewski, the owner of a family-owned doughnut shop in a run-down section of Chicago. He's a hippie who went to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft and has gradually lost all the energy and idealism of his youth. With his descent, the doughnut shop has decayed as well, especially as other doughnut chains have gained ground, and he's facing the prospect of shutting down.
"He's a guy in the rough, sort of unfinished," Foxworth said. "He's kind of a street person, but bright. He's struggling just to keep his business alive."
Then in walks Franco Wicks, a young black man who has written a novel and is full of ideas for saving the shop. He creates hip, youth-oriented events such as poetry slams and concerts, and he supplements the menu with flavored coffee drinks. Even though the two men are vastly different, a true friendship grows between them, and Arthur feels himself reawakening to life.
Although Foxworth remembers protesting the Vietnam War, he didn't take his personal stand quite as far as his character, Arthur.
"A lot of things in this play made me go back in my memory," he said. "I was similar to this guy, but I didn't cross over to another country. I had friends who did, though, and I had a lot of respect for them. That time was a terrible strain on this nation. A difficult, difficult time."
One of the other challenges for Foxworth was the Chicago accent. He worked with a dialect coach, aware that the accent is subtle.
"You could do the role without the dialect, but this play is so grounded in the setting and if we didn't do the accent, people would miss out on the texture and characters we're doing," he said. "Of course, you could kill it if you overdid it."
Foxworth sees this as not just a funny play, but a powerful one as well.
"It's a vehicle for redemption," he said. "There are few plays about how men feel. These guys are like a lot of men ---- they're not very communicative. That's why it's important that men see it. People are going to respond powerfully to this play."
Tickets and more information can be found on the official website: www.sdrep.org
All images © Daren Scott