Top dog/Underdog
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Eric Chazankin

Top dog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks is a powerful drama about two brothers who were named Lincoln (Michael Asberry) and Booth (David Moore) as a joke. Lincoln was 16 and Booth 11 when their parents split. Forced to fend for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world, Lincoln learned how to make money on the street dealing three-card monte and Booth learned how to steal.

When they grew up, they went their separate ways, but Lincoln quit scamming at cards and got what he felt was a more honest job portraying Abe Lincoln at a carnival sideshow and letting would be assassins from the audience shoot him with a cap gun. When Lincoln lost his girlfriend and place to live, he moved in his brother’s small apartment on a “temporary basis,” as Booth often reminds him.

It doesn’t take long to realize, from their mostly comic bickering, that there’s a fair amount of sibling rivalry between the two brothers that goes way back, but it’s also evident that they both care for each other. What’s really great about this production is the subtle acting abilities of this cast and how they keep the audience balanced between love and hate, joy and pain, laughter and irony.

Adding to this balance is director David Lear who felt a little intimidated by this production. It was the first time he had directed a play written by a black playwright with an all African-American cast. At first Lear, who is white, asked himself: “What do I know about these men’s lives?” But once he started working with the two actors, things began to open up for him: “My initial approach was to go at it from the actors’ point of view – as black men. In the process, I realized that the biggest connection we have is a common emotional base – we hurt, we cry, we get angry, we laugh. How we express it is different. I grew in helping them tell their story.”

The result is a drama that transcends race barriers and tells a powerful story of the opposition that tears at all human hearts. For tickets or more information call (707) 523-4185 or visit 6thstreetplayhouse.com.

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