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BWW Reviews: St. Louis Actors' Studio's Intriguing Production of TOPDOG/UNDERDOG

Playwright/novelist/screenwriter/songwriter Suzan-Lori Parks has crafted an intriguing work with Topdog/Underdog, which is currently playing at The Gaslight Theater in a marvelously acted production by the St. Louis Actors' Studio. The theme for their seventh season is "Sins of the Father", and as they have in the past, it's an eclectic and cool mix of older classic works, and newer plays. This current production is distinguished by a pair of exceptional performances which really make it worthy of your time and attention.

Brothers Booth and Lincoln live together in a tiny, rundown apartment. Their oddly curious first names are the result of their late Father's quirky sense of humor. Booth, the younger of the pair, is a scam artist fond of the "five finger discount". At one point he shoplifts complete outfits for the two of them to wear. Lincoln works at a carny, portraying his namesake, and getting shot with blanks by patrons eager to relive this bit of history. Booth wants desperately to set up a three card monte game, something his brother Lincoln was once gifted at running. But Lincoln quit when a member of his crew was shot and killed. This is a peculiar look at their sordid little lives, but a very engaging one.

Chauncy Thomas is terrific as Booth, bringing a great deal of energy to this tale of sibling rivalry. When we first encounter him he's trying to hone his game, and he rattles off his patter with considerable style and panache. He's eager and pushy, and he wants his brother to assist him. Reginald Pierre is equally sharp, bringing a nice laid back demeanor to his portrayal of Lincoln. It makes for a nice contrast. Pierre brings home the only honest paycheck, and though he loathes his job, he's reluctant to encourage his brother in his illegal activities, even though he still has "game".

Elizabeth Helman's direction is well done, drawing fine performances from the actors, and keeping this simple, one set show, from becoming static or dull. Cristie Johnston's scenic design reflects the poverty that this pair live in, with areas of exposed brick and drywall. Patrick Huber's lighting helps to set the mood, and Carla Landis Evans provides the costume designs and props.

Topdog/Underdog is unusual entertainment, and the St. Louis Actors' Studio has put together a solid production of the work. It continues at The Gaslight Theater through October 6, 2013.

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