Review: TOPDOG/UNDERDOG at The Gamm Theatre

The Gamm opens its 2023-24 season with a stunning production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

By: Sep. 13, 2023
Review: TOPDOG/UNDERDOG at The Gamm Theatre

The Gamm theatre launches its 2023-24 season with Suzan-Lori Parks’ multi-award winning play, TOPDOG/UNDERDOG. On its surface, it’s the story of two Black brothers, Lincoln and Booth, who share a troubled past and are now sharing a room in a squalid boardinghouse while trying to figure out a path forward. Underneath, however, is a text that is rich with multiple layers of interpretation and commentary on the American Dream, capitalism, Black masculinity, and so much more.

As Lincoln, Gamm newcomer Anthony T. Goss appears at first to be as outwardly composed and reflective as is popularly thought about his namesake. He spends much of the show dressed as Abraham Lincoln too, who he spends his days impersonating at an arcade where people pay to assassinate him over and over again. A former card shark, he looks upon this job with a certain dignity, as his first honest "sit down” job, although he worries about being replaced by a wax figure sooner rather than later. Goss’ delivery of the monologue detailing how the so-called game of assassinating Lincoln works at the arcade, and the people who choose to do so, is a truly chilling part of the show.

Marc Pierre shines as Booth, who appears to be his brother’s opposite in many ways – impulsive, brash, quick to anger. He acts as a con man even towards his own brother, finagling more money from him, for example, to pay for a date with his girlfriend, Grace, who may or may actually exist. Booth is eager to follow his brother’s past footsteps as a purveyor of three card monte, distrustful of “regular jobs.”

While both actors are spectacular, the rhythm of Parks’ dialogue requires the ability to transition from rapid-fire, patter-quick back and forths to meaningful pauses, where the only interaction between the two may be a quick glance, or no interaction at all. Goss and Pierre nail the brotherly camaraderie, as well as the uneasy tension which underlies the surface of their relationship, which the show requires. And here, the moments of quiet can be as arresting as moments of dialogue. Both actors imbue every gesture, every action, with meaning, so that the audience can’t help but remain rapt with attention, in anticipation of what may happen next. We, the audience, are the marks of this three card monte game, as each brother shows us – and each other – only what they want us to know. This is, without a doubt, a triumphant directorial debut at the Gamm by Cliff Odle.

The immersion is further put into place by the physical setup of the theatre. Upon walking to the seats, audience goers will walk down the hallway of the boardinghouse Lincoln and Booth live in. The door into the actual space where the stage and seats are set up is marked with red, white, and blue bunting. The audience surrounds the raised stage on all four sides, with only a few rows per side, keeping you close to the action no matter where you are seated. Particular moments of the play are heightened with flashing red, green, or blue lights, and while this adds a dream or nightmare-like quality to those moments, they can be quite intense for those who are sensitive to such effects.

Topdog/Underdog is as relevant today as it was when it was first produced in the early 2000s. This enrapturing production at the Gamm is at turns thrilling, heartbreaking, and humorous, and absolutely should not be missed.

Topdog/Underdog runs from now until October 1 at 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI. Tickets: $55-65. Information about Friday night pay-what-you-wish rush tickets, as well as discounts for seniors, students, groups, and more at Tickets: 401-723-4266 or

Pictured: Anthony T. Goss as Lincoln and Marc Pierre as Booth. Photo by Cat Laine.


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From This Author - Erica Cataldi-Roberts

A life-long Rhode Islander, Erica has been an avid theatre-goer since being taken to children's shows at the Warwick Musical Theatre. She is also an academic librarian in Boston, an occasional bal... Erica Cataldi-Roberts">(read more about this author)


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