The Source for Media Coverage of The Arts in Miami.
Articles, reviews, previews and features on dance and music performances and events.
Sign Up
No one logged in. Log in

Zoetic Stage’s “Topdog/Underdog” Has Swagger and Vicious Bite


Photo: Marckenson Charles as Booth takes a whiff of the dough earned by Eddie Brown as his brother Lincoln; Photo By Justin Namon.
Written by: Christine Dolen
Article Rating

Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks won the Pulitzer Prize for “Topdog/Underdog” in 2002. But as Zoetic Stage’s superb new production of the play at Miami’s Arsht Center demonstrates, her funny, shocking tale of two brothers struggling to survive is as potent today as it was 15 years ago. Maybe more so, given the country’s deepening divide.

Parks’ harrowing drama examines the complex relationship of Lincoln (Eddie Brown) and his younger brother Booth (Marckenson Charles).

Their names are drenched in irony, in part because Lincoln is a black man who ekes out a living by slathering on whiteface makeup, dressing as the 16th president of the United States and allowing customers at an arcade shooting gallery to “assassinate” him multiple times each day. And though the script, a dark comedy that is both poetic and profane, contains myriad surprises, it eventually leads to a tragedy as predictable as it is heartbreaking.

Abandoned as kids, first by their “Moms,” then two years later by their “Pops,” with Lincoln then 16 and Booth 11, the brothers have next to nothing that links them to their traumatic past. Just an old photo album, those names (their father’s idea of a joke) and each other.

Their relationship? It’s complicated, enriched by love, marked by mutual dependence and poisoned by deadly sibling rivalry.

Lincoln, a past master at three-card monte, abandoned the lucrative con game after his “side man” Lonny was murdered. Now he has a bizarre sit-down job with a steady paycheck, though he fears he’s about to be laid off, replaced with a wax dummy. And he has another problem: Booth wants his brother to school him in three-card monte, then go into the racket together.

Beyond the fact that Lincoln now sees the cards as a bad-luck symbol of loss, he has no desire to team with his volatile brother. Lincoln’s moves are smooth, slick and quick, his patter hypnotic. Cocky Booth is slower, heavy-handed, temperamental. In cards, as in life, Booth is the underdog to Lincoln’s top dog.He’s ready to blow, to go all Cain and Abel on his elder bro.

“Topdog/Underdog” is a two hander with swagger and a vicious bite, a play uncensored in its handling of everything from matter-of-fact crime to sexual desire turned predatory. Director Stuart Meltzer has shaped a production full of laughter and shocks, carefully calibrating the speeches, silences and movement of the actors so that “Topdog/Underdog” becomes as mesmerizing as Lincoln’s monte patter.

The performances by Brown and Charles, both New World School of the Arts grads (Brown went to New World’s high school, then earned degrees from DePaul University and the Yale School of Drama, while Charles got his college training at New World), are models of richly detailed, powerfully engaging acting.

Brown’s Lincoln is the caretaking older brother, more reliable yet emotionally wounding to the restless Booth in dangerous ways he doesn’t fully grasp. Brown is physically expressive as he tries out ways to spice up the Lincoln-in-the-arcade act or as he tries to fall asleep in the tattered red velvet recliner (picked up curbside, no doubt) that serves as his bed in Booth’s shabby room.

Charles’ moves nearly become a dance, and his shoplifter’s striptease is flat-out hilarious. In Booth, he fuses desire, envy, deep psychological damage and a hair-trigger temper to create a character who inspires both pity and fear.

Michael McClain’s two-level set opens to reveal the close quarters of Booth’s room and an upper level where Greg Duffy’s video design references Lincoln’s tourist-trap work environment and the elements of three-card monte. Prop designer Natalie Tavares has supplied the tools of Booth’s would-be trade along with stacks of magazines that fuel his sexual fantasies.

Sound designer Matt Corey provides subtle music as well as the sounds of the neighborhood, while costume designer Angelina Esposito has dressed Brown in an arcade-worthy Lincoln getup and Charles in clothing that looks like a boosted wardrobe. Rebecca Montero’s lighting traverses the play’s shifting emotions, and it is key to underscoring Lincoln’s feelings about the bad juju of the cards.

Still to come in Zoetic’s eclectic season are the world premiere of Christopher Demos-Brown’s “Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts” as well as the South Florida premieres of the play “Dancing Lessons” and the Broadway musical hit “Fun Home.”“Topdog/Underdog” gets the company off to a ferocious, heart-wrenching start.

“Topdog/Underdog” by Suzan-Lori Parks, Zoetic Stage production in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 19. Cost:$50 and $55. Information: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.

 


Leave a comment...
Must be Logged in
No one logged in. Log in
Leave a comment...
Was this helpful?
No Very

Captcha Image

About The writer

{module_webapps,16730,i,{tag_writer_id}}

After 17 years as a principal dancer with the esteemed San Francisco Ballet, dancing every major role and style possible, Lorena Feijoo is retiring from that company to embark on a new journe..

Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick is a storyteller. Her company Alma Dance Theater brings a particularly female inner world to the stage, through lush and sensual choreography. Nick’s..

Pools are ubiquitous in Miami. They dot the landscape like Jackson Pollock drip paintings. Residents swim or idle the hours away by or in the pool – and dancers of Momentum Dance Company also perf..

May’s “Mujeres” series of strong, multi-faceted, women-focused productions, commissioned for Miami Theater Center’s SandBox space, concludes with Spanish-born dancer-choreographer Carlota Pr..

One could say that Bistoury’s 305 & Havana International Improv Fest, which debuts this Saturday at Miami Theater Center, has been in the works for almost 20 years. In 1999 Cuban-born cho..

The process of creating “Shade,” choreographer Augusto Soledade’s latest full-length work, has been one of remembering and reconfiguring memory to discover new ways of talking about identity ..

Upcoming this week, Tigertail presents choreographer Myriam Gourfink and musician Kasper Toeplitz. Hailing from France, the two will be present for a 3-day residency at Subtropics’ South Beac..

From her home base at 6th Street Dance Studio in Little Havana, longtime Miami dance figure Brigid Baker has been slowly crafting a new performance piece. It’s not conceptual or political like con..

Karen Peterson is the artistic director of Karen Peterson and Dancers, a company that brings professional dancers with and without disabilities together in the same piece of choreography, and..

Revivals are hot on Broadway these days with “CATS”and “Hello, Dolly!“once again gracing the Great White Way. There is a certain nostalgia in taking a second or even third viewing of a belove..

What happens when urban dance style meets classical music? We’ll find out when Brooklyn-based hip-hop dance troupe Decadancetheater takes the stage, backed by Miami’s own experimental classic..

“What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to not want to belong?” These are questions that choreographer Reggie Wilson contemplates in his provocative piece “CITIZEN,“ which makes its M..

If even a modicum of redemption can be forged from the hellish after-effects of gun violence, we must listen to the communities most affected by the violence. To this end, “Trigger,” a hip-ho..

Celebrating 35 years is an amazing achievement for any dance company in Miami, but especially one founded in a decade better known for its ties to drugs than to the arts. Momentum Dance Compa..

For Tigertail Productions, April is the month of fire. Like their WATER Festival in 2016, this month’s FIRE Festival celebrates a single element in multiple art forms, including dance, visual..

During the month of April the organizers of the seventh iteration of the O Miami Poetry Festival intend every resident of Miami Dade county to encounter a poem or – even better – write one! An..

As the “home-grown” sweetheart of Miami City Ballet, Patricia Delgado is having her final performances this season before leaving the city and the company she loves to move to New York City.H..

Even people who can’t find Argentina on a map and believe tangos only happen in Paris know La Cumparsita’s iconic four beat opening. Like a bar’s last call, La Cumparsita tells tango dancers ..

Miami City Ballet will conclude its season this week with a rich selection of repertory pieces: two from Balanchine, in very expressive but distinct modes, and one from modern-dance master Pa..

Ballet Flamenco La Rosa’s studio evokes the feel of a tablao in Spain. The strumming of the guitar, the rapid-fire rhythms of footwork against the floor, and the soft voice of the singer reac..

Miami choreographer Augusto Soledade has been a fixture in the local dance world since he arrived here in 2004. His cast has shifted over the years and he continues to challenge himself artis..

In one duet, two dancers use their bodies as counterweights, springing forth from each other’s bodies with explosive power. In another, dancers form a sharp line before torsos undulate and fa..

Teacher, choreographer and activist Dale Andree is known for her ability to merge activism with dance. Andree founded and directs National Water Dance, a site-specific project that joins danc..

In 2016, Philadelphia-based Koresh Dance company crossed their 25-year mark. To celebrate, the company returns to Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts with a 25th anniversary..

From singers like Joan Baez to poets like Maya Angelou to anonymous knitters of pink pussy hats, creative women have played an essential role in this country as agitators and activists. Likew..

When Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) takes the stage this weekend, it will present a program rich in the cultural milieu of Miami. Co-founders Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra i..

It is an awe-inspiring experience to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers perform. They are well trained dancers, athletes and artists. Not often known is that some of the dance..

People often imagine new artwork is the product of the solitary artist genius slaving away in lonely studios. The South Florida Symphony’s 20th anniversary program foregrounds a different vis..

At an age when many are winding down their working lives, Ignacio Berroa eagerly anticipates a new stage in his career. It would be understandable if the 64-year-old drummer, recognized a..

We know it’s the holiday season when trees light up, menorah candles start to burn, ubiquitous Christmas carols pipe through drugstores, “The Nutcracker” plays on every stage – and in recent ..

Late last year, on Dec. 20, 2016, Romero Britto and Mark Bryn hosted the Great Artists Series Cocktail Reception at the Britto Fine Art Gallery to celebrate the legendary impresaria, Judy Dru..

Everyone remembers a lost weekend, binge reading a novel whose ending had to wait because the body just gave out. No matter how compelling the story somewhere around the 30th hour the brain s..

Globalization has produced many stories —not all inspiring. But having a Pakistani ensemble become a worldwide sensation by playing Paul Desmond’s immortal “Take Five,” which pianist Da..

When the management of New York’s iconic Apollo Theater approached drummer Gregg Field last year about organizing a concert there in honor of the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth..

They’ve opened a Chanel fashion show in Havana and been featured in Beyoncé’s visual album for “Lemonade.” The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has danced to their music. Their Florida debu..

There are few artists who have had the impact in their disciplines that guitarist Paco De Lucía had in flamenco. There is a before-and-after De Lucía in flamenco. He expanded the harmonic voc..

El segundo programa de la temporada 2017-2018 del Miami City Ballet (MCB) dedicado a los 100 años del nacimiento de Jerome Robbins (1918-1998), el gran coreógrafo norteamericano que triunfó ..

2017 fue un buen año para la danza en Miami. El Flamenco Festival nos permitió volver a ver a Jesús Carmona, el Internacional Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) sobrevivió al huracán Irma, Dance..

El Miami City Ballet (MCB) presentó por fin en el Arsht Center la nueva producción de su gran espectáculo navideño, el “Cascanueces” de Tchaikovsky y Balanchine, ahora con diseños origin..

La tradicional temporada de Cascanueces del Miami City Ballet (MCB) tendrá algo nuevo este año. La compañía que dirige Lourdes López ha decidido renovar los diseños de la superproducción que..

El programa que Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) presentó el sábado pasado en su exitoso debut como compañía en residencia del South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center (SMDCAC) y a solo ..

Hay pocos artistas que han tenido el impacto en sus disciplinas como el guitarrista Paco De Lucía tuvo en flamenco. En este género, hay un antes y después de De Lucía. Expandió el vocabul..

Dance NOW! Miami, la Florida Dance Education Organization (FDEO), Miami Dance Futures y la New World School of the Arts (NWSA) colaboraron el fin de semana pasado para presentar la Daniel Lew..

Esta es una gran noticia para el público amante del ballet en Miami. Tras un paréntesis de diez años en los que solo nos visitó de manera esporádica, la Primera Bailarina mexicana Katia Carra..

Solo hay que aplicar el concepto “seis grados de separación” a uno de los artistas que se han presentado en las Galas de Estrellas del Festival Internacional de Ballet de Miami (IBFM por sus ..