Suzan-Lori Parks's Pulitzer-winning play Topdog/Underdog has its first Broadway revival in fall 2022, starring Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Get Topdog/Underdog tickets on New York Theatre Guide now.
What is Topdog/Underdog about?
Topdog/Underdog is a play about two brothers, loosely based on the biblical brothers Cain and Abel. These two, Lincoln and Booth (so named by their father as a joke), had a harsh childhood and are still struggling with an equally harsh adulthood. Booth is out of work and uses his shoplifting skills to provide for himself and Grace, the woman he's trying to woo. He lives with Lincoln, who has a scamming skill of his own: he's a three-card Monte expert. However, he swore off that and now works as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator at an arcade, providing the household's only true income.
Their cohabitation, after Lincoln's wife left him, was supposed to be temporary, but poverty forces the brothers to remain together. Throughout the course of the play, they clash as they discuss their own struggles with racism, romance, and work, until their relationship reaches a breaking point. As Parks herself has said of the play, Topdog/Underdog is about the effect of outside expectations of who a person can become, and "what it means to be family and, in the biggest sense, the family of man, what it means to be connected with somebody else."
When does Topdog/Underdog take place?
Parks only lists the setting as "here" and the time as "now." The vague setting suggests that these brothers' struggle isn't unique to a specific place or time period, but that people still undergo their struggles today.
The premiere of Topdog/Underdog in New York took place off Broadway at The Public Theater in 2001. Marvel Cinematic Universe star Don Cheadle and Angels in America star Jeffrey Wright played the brothers, and George C. Wolfe directed. He also led the next two productions: at the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway in 2002 and at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2003; both these productions featured Wright and rapper Mos Def in Cheadle's place.
Topdog/Underdog was met with critical and awards success; it made Parks the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002. (She was previously nominated for her play In the Blood, and had written 15 plays, won a MacArthur Genius Grant, and received a Guggenheim fellowship by the time she won for Topdog/Underdog.) The play also won an Outer Critics Circle Award for Playwriting and got Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations. Wright and Wolfe won Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards for their work. In 2018, The New York Times named Topdog/Underdog the best American play since Tony Kushner's 1993 magnum opus, Angels in America.
The two stars of Topdog/Underdog on Broadway in 2022 have lauded careers on stage and screen. Hawkins is known for his Tony-nominated stage role in Six Degrees of Separation, and for screen roles like Benny in In the Heights, Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton, and Heath in The Walking Dead. Abdul-Mateen won an Emmy Award for his role as Cal Abar on Watchmen, and he's also played acclaimed roles like Black Manta in Aquaman and Bobby Seale in The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Get tickets to Topdog/Underdog on Broadway, on sale now.