BWW Review: TOPDOG / UNDERDOG at Shakespeare & Company – A Powerful Drama That Asks Does The Show Stop or Does The Show Go On When No One Is Watching?

BWW Review: TOPDOG / UNDERDOG at Shakespeare & Company – A Powerful Drama That Asks Does The Show Stop or Does The Show Go On When No One Is Watching?
Deacon Griffin-Pressley, Bryce Michael Wood
Photo: Daniel Rader

TOPDOG / UNDERDOG by Suzan-Lori Parks premiered in 2001 at The Public Theatre and moved to Broadway in 2002. Parks received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Outer Critics Circle Award for the play which also received the 2002 Tony Award for Best New Play.

TOPDOG / UNDERDOG chronicles the lives of two African American brothers coping with poverty, racism, work, women, and their troubled upbringings. Lincoln lives in a single room apartment with Booth, his younger brother, after having been thrown out by his wife. Lincoln's work at an arcade is their sole source of income. The work is honest but unfulfilling. Booth, a petty thief, repeatedly attempts to persuade Lincoln to return to his past running games of three-card Monte which Lincoln has since sworn off.

BWW Review: TOPDOG / UNDERDOG at Shakespeare & Company – A Powerful Drama That Asks Does The Show Stop or Does The Show Go On When No One Is Watching?
Bryce Michael Wood
Photo: Daniel Rader

The brothers reflect on their lives revealing bad parenting, neglect, abandonment and a series of life events that have left the two relatively young men badly broken. When Lincoln suffers yet another setback, he returns to his previous vices and the life lessons each of the brothers has learned well, are once again set into play - this time upon each other. The result is an overwhelming piece of riveting drama that is raw, deeply emotional, and must be experienced to be appreciated.

"TOPDOG / UNDERDOG is one of the most powerful and moving plays from the theater; and in my opinion it's Suzan-Lori Parks' greatest work," said Director Regge Life. "What makes the play so special and important is in the way she has chosen to show what it means to be an African-American man in the U.S. today."

BWW Review: TOPDOG / UNDERDOG at Shakespeare & Company – A Powerful Drama That Asks Does The Show Stop or Does The Show Go On When No One Is Watching?
Deacon Griffin-Pressley
Photo: Daniel Radner

Named one of TIME magazine's "100 Innovators for the Next New Wave," in 2002, Suzan-Lori Parks became the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for TOPDOG / UNDERDOG. This darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity is Parks' original riff on the way we are defined by history. Haunted by the past, the brothers are forced to confront the shattering reality of their future.

Shakespeare & Company's production of TOPDOG / UNDERDOG stars Bryce Michael Wood (Lincoln) and Deaon Griffin-Pressley (Booth). Led by Director Regge Life the creative team includes Hope Rose Kelly (Stage Manager), Maegan A. Conroy (Assistant Sage Manager), Cindy Wade (Tech Week Assistant Stage Manager), Cristina Todesco (Set Designer), Stella Schwartz (Costume Designer), Matthew Miller (Lighting Designer), Brendan Doyle (Sound Designer), Melissa Ziccardi (Wardrobe/Assistant Stage Manager), Bob Lohbauer (Weapons Master), and Caleb Harris (Associate Technical Director).

BWW Review: TOPDOG / UNDERDOG at Shakespeare & Company – A Powerful Drama That Asks Does The Show Stop or Does The Show Go On When No One Is Watching?

Bryce Michael Wood and Deacon Griffin-Pressley, two fine young actors, display an extreme range and a depth of emotion that is laudable. They bob and weave like champion prize fighters in response to life's blows. Perhaps shuck and jive is a more appropriate metaphor for the pair of hustlers they portray. Their performances build to a climactic final scene that leaves them and the audience breathless and gasping.

Tickets for TOPDOG / UNDERDOG are available online at shakespeare.org, or by calling Shakespeare & Company's box office at (413) 637-3353. The show runs from August 13 to September 8 in The Tina Packer Playhouse at Shakespeare & Company - 70 Kemble St. in Lenox, Massachusetts.



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From This Author Marc Savitt