REVIEW: Topdog/Underdog

by Lynn on October 9, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, Toronto, Ont. played until Oct. 22, 2023.

Written by Suzan-Lori Parks

Directed by Tawiah M’Carthy

Set by Rachel Forbes

Costumes by Joyce Padua

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Stephen Surlin

Cast: Mazin Elsadig

Sébastien Heins

A powerful play about brotherly love, resentment and the destructive worm of violence that haunts these two Black brothers.

Booth and Lincoln are brothers who live in a shabby room. Booth has the bed and Lincoln sleeps in a lazyboy chair. Booth is helping out his brother Lincoln by letting him stay in the room. Booth is a petty thief. Lincoln works in an arcade impersonating President Abraham Lincoln so that the public can pay money to shoot him. Both brothers are Black. As Lincoln says, his father had a ‘sense of humour’ if he could name both brothers Booth and Lincoln.

Booth (underdog) has visions of being a master of “3- card monte” as his brother once was and practices his banter and flipping the cards on a cardboard balanced on milk crate in the room.  Lincoln was hugely successful (top dog) at the game and made a lot of money in the past, but gave it up because he lost the spark that made him play. So he now works in the arcade and was worried he might lose even that job.

The two men banter, tease and talk. They certainly had a hard life. Their parents left them when they were teens. First the mother then the father. They had to fend for themselves. Booth wants nothing more than for his brother to teach him the finer points of 3-card monte, but Lincoln hesitates. He doesn’t think his brother has the discipline to learn the finer points of the game. When Lincoln does try to teach Booth, emotions run high and the results are explosive.

Director Tawiah M’Carthy and his set designer Rachel Forbes have envisioned that the whole production should look like a boxing ring motif. The shabby room is encircled by the configuration of a boxing ring. Scenes are ended and introduced by a bell, as in boxing.

It’s an interesting concept but I don’t think it works here. Boxing requires both brawn as well as smarts to win. Of the two brothers, Booth (a wonderful Mazin Elsadig) is the more violent, the aggressor. 3-card monte requires skill, smarts and wiliness, and Lincoln (an equally impressive Sébastien Heins) has that in spades. He knows how to size up the opponent and the world around the opponent. Booth just charges in without the patience to think first.  I also found the room a bit too large and spacious to suggest the claustrophobia needed to ‘encase’ these two brothers in their isolated world. Just an observation.

Mazin Elsadig as Booth and Sébastien Heins as Lincoln danced a dance together that was loving, funny, impish, teasing and brutal. They challenged each other, both as actors and characters, to reach heights that made one grip the arm rest of the seat. Lovely work. Terrific play.

Canadian Stage Presents:

Played until Oct. 22, 2023.

Running time: approx. 3 hours.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.