TopDog/UnderDog by Suzan-Lori Parks 1999
Park’s play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002 and is a hard-hitting, intimate view of family, poverty, and race in America.
Performed in six scenes without a break and in a single, run-down room by two actors, it portrays Lincoln and Booth, named as a joke by their long absent father, as they struggle with a legacy of abandonment, poverty, racism, alcoholism, and crime. An unnamed role in the play is their photo album, cited by Lincoln as full of happy memories when they were a family of four living in a house and by Booth as a bunch of pipe-dreams and false hopes. Yet, it is Booth who wants to take a picture of Lincoln in his Abraham Lincoln costume, the only job Lincoln could get in which he dons white face and Abe’s costume in an arcade in order for white people to take turns assassinating him—-a perfect, ironic metaphor for the plight of Blacks in America. The daily routine of his job fore-shadows the final scene with his brother, Booth.
This is another play which while powerful in the reading, I feel must be seen for its full impact. Like Leopoldstadt which I recommended last month, I can only imagine the drained and despondent feelings with which one would leave the theatre when the lights went down.
Parks, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Mt. Holyoke, studied with James Baldwin and received a MacArthur grant in 2001 and other honors. She’s written screenplays for Spike Lee as well as other plays.