The Arts

Topdog/Underdog

Topdog/Underdog featured image

Reviewed by Paula Citron
August 25, 2011

Topdog/Underdog
Shaw Festival/Obsidian Theatre
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Philip Akin
Performed by Kevin Hanchard and Nigel Shawn Williams
Studio Theatre
Jul. 19 to Aug. 27, 2011

The Shaw Festival uses its new Studio Theatre for productions off the mandate of plays written or taking place during Shaw’s lifetime.

The Pulitzer Prize winning, 2001 play Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks, is being presented in association with Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre.

Parks is considered one of the finest Afro-American playwrights of her generation. She gives an authentic voice to the mean streets of the Black experience. Her plays are difficult to watch, but they speak volumes.

Kevin Hanchard and Nigel Shawn Williams play two brothers called, respectively, Booth and Lincoln – a reference to both the emancipator-president and his assassin. Lincoln is trying to make an honest living, while Booth is the amoral conman/thief.

Within this metaphor, lies Parks’ nihilistic view of Black manhood. Director Philip Akin goes for the jugular to bring out their dysfunctional relationship. The second act is particularly harrowing.

This important play is not for the faint of heart.

Topdog/Underdog continues at the Shaw Festival’s Studio Theatre until Aug. 27.

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