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}}

Grand Opera Moments featuring The Opera Atelier accompanied by the Arts Ballet Theatre and original choreography by Vladimir Issaev...

In these days of Facebook, YouTube, and television on demand, the opera, ballet, and symphony are all struggling to fill concert halls. So the Knight Foundation stepped in to bring classical arts to t..

For someone who placed extraordinary value on silence, and famously incorporated it into his musical compositions, John Cage is making quite a bit of noise. And deservedly so. Because, it would seem a..

Across four nights, traditional and contemporary music from: Germany, Cuba, Spain, Russia, and Argentina will be performed by various classically trained groups, starting with the opening performance ..

The unique two-day festival that highlights Jewish origins in a wide a array of music, from African-American spirituals and jazz to Latin dance, kicks off with a performance "Of Essence & Time/De La E..

A disco dance extravaganza a la Studio 54, with choreography from Rosie Herrera and dancers from the Rosie Herrera Dance Company...

SFCA [isaw + subtropics] hosts a four day 100th anniversary party for the seminal composer with a series of free concerts, installations, and events...

Across four evenings, the traditional and contemporary music of Germany, Cuba, Spain, Russia, and Argentina will be performed by classically trained groups, starting with the opening performance from ..

As one of the most pluralistic cities in the country, Miami is home to diverse enclaves from Haiti, Argentina, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Nicaragua and others. Aptly, Miami is called..

Soulé was a transformative experience whose news needs to be spread like a testament. This one-night only performance of contemporary flamenco, blues and rhythm -- presented by Art Works for Us -- on ..

Davey Williams is rubbing a kitchen whisk across the strings of his black headless electric guitar as Jill Burton speaks in tongues into a microphone sandwiched in between two plastic cups. Parts of t..

The avant-garde describes the foremost part of an army advancing into battle. Davey Williams and Jill Burton are leading a charge of the musical avant-garde into South Florida this weekend and they ar..

The original, real trance music, not just the kind that you zone out to in any hip SoBe disco or downtown club, but the type that makes you feel as if the spirits are moving you, finds its roots in th..

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 ..