Play Revival Deals A Winner – Deadline

Twenty years after it first arrived to shake up a complacent Broadway and make a Pulitzer Prize winner of its creator Suzan-Lori Parks, Topdog/Underdog has lost none of its vitality and energy and crafty. Director Kenny Leon proves that in a vibrant new manufacturing opening tonight on the Golden Theatre.

Stars Corey Hawkins (The Walking Dead, Tony nominee for Six Degrees of Separation) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen) tear into this play with a power that captivates from begin to end. Like the Three-card Monte sharks they painting, the actors are in full management, pacing their recreation and teasing out buried histories, secrets and techniques and longings with all of the grace of a grasp illusionist.

They play brothers Lincoln (Hawkins) and Booth (Abdul-Mateen II) – named by their father as a merciless joke, only one amongst many lifelong burdens the sons inherit. With Lincoln, the elder, newly separated from his spouse, the brothers are sharing the tight quarters of Booth’s rundown, one-room condominium. It’s a dump, and shortly can be a cauldron.

Abdul-Mateen II, Hawkins (Photo by Marc J. Franklin)

In maybe probably the most audacious and dangerous instance of Parks’ pointed, go-for-broke humorousness, the playwright has Lincoln working as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator – in whiteface – at an area arcade, the place clients pay to painting the historic Booth and reenact a sure pivotal second at Ford’s Theatre. Heritage and future – to say nothing of humor and drama – collide on this weird show that works as each metaphor and actuality. (Too fantastical? New York’s Coney Island had a “Shoot the Freak” attraction as late as 2010.)

With the brothers subsisting on Lincoln’s meager wage and Booth’s shoplifting expertise, desires for a greater life come arduous. For Booth, escape is all tied up in Three-card Monte, the road con that his brother as soon as mastered for money and renown. Booth, whose expertise for retailer thievery is extra finely developed than his card recreation, wants Lincoln to rejoin the hustle, however Lincoln needs none of it, having sworn off after watching a buddy and crew member shot useless on the street, the sufferer of 1 too many swindles.

As the brothers parry and thrust, every scoring little victories right here and there, the play’s title takes on a shifting that means – a topdog one minute may nicely be the underdog the subsequent. The drama, and the laughs, are available watching actors pretty much as good as Hawkins and Abdul-Mateen II – guided, after all, by a director as commanding as Leon – as they shift and maneuver for position, by no means displaying their fingers till they’re good and prepared (and that features some skilled and downright thrilling Three-card Monte: the manufacturing credit illusionists Derek DelGaudio and Michael Weber for “Deceptive Practices”).

And that’s just about it for plot – one brother trying to persuade the opposite of 1 factor or one other, teasing, arguing, cajoling and joking, resurrecting a tragic household historical past (the 2 have been youngsters when deserted by their mother and father) with every sibling having a revelation or two that, deployed at simply the correct second, may shatter the opposite’s tightly constructed recollections of the previous and hopes for the longer term.

Playing out completely within the cramped, sparsely furnished condominium – impeccably designed by Arnulfo Maldonado for simply the barest of transformations when vital – Topdog/Underdog has been given a terrific manufacturing right here. Dede Ayite’s costume design is, just like the play itself, a completely credible mix of the mundane and the ever so barely fantastical: the Honest Abe costume is without delay creepy, humorous and powerfully disturbing, and the flashy, cheesy fits swiped from a retailer by Booth have simply the correct trace of the Seventies to counsel Topdog/Underdog‘s sense of being haunted by the previous.

Of course, the story is haunted, each by the legacy of a nation’s enduring racism and by the load of a household’s self-mythology and expectations. Give all credit score to the playwright, the director and this cast that when destiny comes calling on this wonderful revival of a 20-year-old play, it’ll nonetheless steal your breath away.

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