The newest NYC manufacturing in a 12 months crammed with Pulitzer Prize-winning exhibits and the first-ever Broadway revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog is now taking part in a restricted engagement on the John Golden Theatre, on the 20th anniversary of its receipt of the distinguished award in 2002. It weaves a devastating story of two Black brothers, deserted by their mother and father as younger youngsters, jilted by their spouse and girlfriend, and left with solely one another to depend on, as they take care of poverty, work, rejection, racism, and all of the feelings they engender, in a comi-tragic two-hander that’s laugh-out-loud absurd till it turns lethal.
Named Lincoln and Sales space as a joke by their father, the elder Linc is quickly residing together with his youthful brother after being thrown out by his spouse. Beforehand a grasp on the road hustle Three-card Monte till his good friend was shot lifeless by an irate mark, he supplies their solely earnings by working a “legit” however humiliating job in an arcade capturing sport, within the position of Abraham Lincoln in whiteface, however is quickly to get replaced by a wax dummy. Sales space, an knowledgeable at shoplifting, aspires to changing into a card shark like his brother was, so tries his hand on the con sport, assumes the brand new title 3-Card, and hopes to influence Linc to return to his former glory by teaming up with him and operating the rip-off. He additionally convinces himself that his ex-girlfriend Grace will come again and marry him, as soon as he has the extent of earnings it would present. However his goals fail, and he reacts.
Consummately directed by Tony-winner Kenny Leon with a watch on each the riotous humor and the growing underlying pressure, the faster-paced first act is performed for laughs, with some unsettling ever-present foreshadows of what’s to return. All of it erupts within the second act, with a shattering conclusion that can go away you shaken to the core. Corey Hawkins as Lincoln and Yahya Abdul-Matteen II as Sales space flip in extraordinary performances that seize the bravado and the ache of their characters, broken by their previous and thwarted within the current, as they drink collectively, speak, joke, and brag in rapid-fire road lingo, conflict, insult, and compete with each other, reveal the backstory of their determined lives, and elicit empathy and compassion for them and the playing cards they had been dealt.
Abdul-Matten is hilarious as he awkwardly practices and celebrates his progress with the playing cards, shares the graphic particulars of his sexual encounter with Grace, and removes layer upon layer of the clothes he stole for himself and Linc. Hawkins is sidesplitting in his histrionic enactments of Lincoln’s dying, his improvised blues music on vocal and guitar in response to Sales space, and his exuberant return to the scamming at which he excels. And each ship the profoundly troubled psychology and intense emotions of their deeply harm characters as they replicate on the mother and father and girls who left them, disclose their jealousy and competitiveness towards each other (evoking the Previous Testomony story of Cain and Abel), and do battle over a high-stakes sport of Three-card-Monte that seals their destiny.
The artistic staff supplies an outstanding inventive design that helps each ingredient of Parks’ narrative to perfection. Costumes by Dede Ayite are integral to the plot factors of Linc’s job as his namesake president’s impersonator and to Sales space’s talent at shoplifting. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set is a believably rundown, cramped, and ill-furnished room, framed by foreboding lavish gold stage curtains modeled after these in DC’s historic Ford’s Theatre, the place Lincoln was assassinated. Lighting by Allen Lee Hughes and sound by Justin Ellington additional help the moods and actions of the story and characters.
Along with Topdog/Underdog’s standing as a Pulitzer Prize winner, this highly effective revival ought to garner extra well-deserved awards for the excellent solid, path, and design.
Operating Time: Roughly two hours and 20 minutes, together with an intermission.
Topdog/Underdog performs by way of Sunday, January 15, 2023, on the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Road, NYC. For tickets (priced at $74-240, plus charges), name (212) 239-6200, or go on-line. Masks are non-compulsory within the theater.