BWW Review: TOPDOG/UNDERDOG at The 5 & Dime
Rich in allegorical themes and teeming with tragic irony, Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer winner TOPDOG/UNDERDOG opened at The 5 & Dime Theatre Monday night. Celebrating the removal of the theatre's arch nemesis, a support pole that previously ran straight through the front of the stage, the house was packed (sold out, in fact), brimming with anticipation for this necessary show. TOPDOG/UNDERDOG tells the story of two brothers who have been dealt desolate hands in the game of life, and how each processes his fate.
The show's only two characters, named Lincoln and Booth by their estranged father - who found the combination of names comical - the first act's languid narrative flirts with the potential for too much exposition, though it is ultimately redeemed by the commitment of actors David Girard (Lincoln) and Terrence Scott (Booth). The brothers live together in what they mutually acknowledge as a "temporary arrangement" at a boardinghouse-styled apartment (read: no bathroom or running water), until Lincoln can get back on his feet, as his wife has left him. Booth, who is Lincoln's junior by five years, has no job: he spends his days attempting to perfect his skills at three-hand monte and "boosting" food, clothing, even silverware. While Lincoln used to be a skilled, successful card hustler, his closest friend was murdered over the game and Lincoln decided to lead a more honest lifestyle as a result. His job now involves dressing as Abraham Lincoln (all the way down to wearing white-face), and letting people shoot him with toy guns at a local arcade. He fears for his job daily, as his employer threatens to replace him with a wax dummy. Girard and Scott both give overwhelmingly sincere performances. Their comedy is natural, and their intense moments will leave you breathless.
The impoverished life, the depraved culture, and the layers of allegory and irony blend together in the second act to deliver intensely personal dialogue. The audience, seated incredibly close to the stage, are subjected to a voyeurish role: these brothers spend much of their time in boxers, employ crass language, and ultimately, the viewers are witness to a tragedy. While this isn't a show for the whole family, Parks' script encourages conversation and community that is needed right now. Nuances in the script that foreshadow the second act's unraveling were carefully detected and executed by directors Lee Hamby and Lindsay Curry. Their recognition of why this production is the right one for their theatre, this community, and the urban core of Jacksonville, translated into catching moments in the script that while comical or light-hearted in the first act, tumbled into gut-wrenching irony in the second. Tom Fallon's set design further immerses the viewer into the brothers' world: the stage is well-used and the colors and textures are perfectly in line with the desolation experienced. Lighting by Jim Wiggins accents the underlying shadows of the story, while Kaiti Barta's developing dramaturgy certainly added to the cultural realism of the show.
This incrdible show runs through July 2nd. Tickets are available at The 5 & Dime's website. The 5 & Dime Theatre is located at 112 East Adams Street, 32202.
production photos by Maya Adkins