Topdog / Underdog (4 stars)

Topdog / Underdog

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 21 Nov

Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a fine example of the power that can be achieved with two actors and a single setting. Topdog / Underdog focuses on two African American brothers, Lincoln and Booth, who have very different ideas about how to escape their troubled upbringings. While Booth dreams of becoming Topdog at three card monte, Lincoln, who once cleaned up at the street confidence game, now strives to earn an honest crust as a ‘live’ Abraham Lincoln, top-hatted, white-faced and target practice for regulars at a local arcade.

Tyronne Lewis and Nicholas Pinnock are terrific as the brothers who, very different in temperament and approach, are united by their shared history as well as their desire to rise above the crummy hand that life has dealt them. These energetic performances, married to Parks’ rich, snappy, lyrical dialogue pulls us into their story, which expands beyond the narrow confines of the one-room apartment the brothers share, to create a bleak portrait of the culture and expectations of the modern African American male. The final scene in particular is rigid with tension, while the climax really makes you think about what you’ve just seen.

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