‘Topdog/Underdog’ receives layered, fascinating production at Marin Theatre Company

(Charles Kruger)

Rating: 4/5 Stars » Highly Recommended

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“People are funny about that Lincon sh*t. People want their history in a certain way,” observes one of the characters in Suzan Lori-Parks prize winning play, “Top Dog/Underdog”.

The play tells the history and explores the relationship of two Black brothers named Lincoln and Booth (their absent Dad thought this was funny) living together in Booth’s depressing slum apartment.

Their personal history smartly echoes and comments upon the history of race in America, as playwright Parks devastatingly demonstrates the many ways in which the personal story is informed by the larger societal issues. These themes are presented with sly humor and dead-on insight.

Booth wants to master the con game, Three Card Monte, which he practices alone in his apartment. He does this while awaiting the return from work of his brother, Lincoln, whose job it is to masquerade as the President of the same name (while wearing white face) at an arcade where customers pay to re-enact his assassination. Lincoln used to be a card hustler himself, but is happy now to have “a sit down job, with benefits”.

“The Black card,” Booth states repeatedly as he practices his patter, “that’s the loser.”

Bowman Wright as Lincoln and Biko Eisen-Martin as Booth in Suzan Lori-Parks’ “Top Dog/Underdog” at Marin Theatre Company. Photo Credit: David Allen.

As the brothers love, attack, manipulate and care for one another, the family and personal history is gradually unfolded. Lori-Parks makes the brilliant decision to never explicitly discuss the racial implications of their personal history and present situation, but rather piles metaphor upon metaphor to create a symphony of resonance.

Audiences will leave with an abundant banquet of food for thought.

Biko Eisen-Martin and Bowman Wright as Booth and Lincoln are each excellent and both achieve some exceptional performance heights, especially when delivering the con patter of the Three Card Monte hustle.

Timothy Douglas provides expert direction, keeping things visually interesting and maintaining variations of intensity and pace so that the two and a half hour running time seems short.

This important piece, which is the first and only play by an African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (in 2002), is well worth seeing. “Topdog/Underdog” continues at Marin Theatre Company through October 21. For further information, click here.

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“Topdog/Underdog” by Suzan Lori-Parks, produced by Marin Theatre Company. Director: Timothy Douglas. Scenic Designer: Mikiko Uesugi. Lighting Designer: Kurt Landisman. Costume Designer: Callie Floor. Composer & Sound Designer: Chris Houston.

Booth: Biki Eisen-Martin. Lincon: Bowman Wright.

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