Topdog/Underdog

Topdog/Underdog

Lincoln and Booth are bizarre monikers for a pair of siblings. In this solid revival of Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize–winning drama, capably directed by Martin Papazian, names aren't the only ironic peculiarity here. Lincoln (A.K Murtadha) and Booth (M.D. Walton) are African-Americans, named by a neglectful, long-gone father as a joke; they now cling to one another for survival yet harbor volcanic resentments toward each other. The play's potency lies in this attraction-repulsion dynamic and the resultant venomous acrimony, which Parks so neatly dissects. Lincoln, the oldest, is kicked out by his wife and forced to move into Booth's sleazy, trash-strewn apartment. Life isn't unbearably wretched for him; he has a "real" job as an arcade attraction playing the Great Emancipator — complete with whiteface, fake beard, stovepipe and trashy overcoat — while patrons shoot him for recreation. Once a master of the three-card monte street hustle, he now salves what's left of his dignity with false hopes and Jack Daniels. His pistol-packing brother, however, dreams of being the ultimate monte player, seeing the game as his ticket out of poverty and an affirmation of his manhood. Parks sketches an ugly portrait of thwarted urban life, sibling rivalry and crippling self-delusion. Though not much happens in this two-hour comedy, the writing is thoroughly engaging. Yet it's Walton and Murtadha's rugged, emotionally charged performances that work the magic. Lillian Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through September 12. (323) 960-7719.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Aug. 6. Continues through Sept. 12, 2010