The show posters outside the John Golden Theatre for the 20th anniversary revival of Topdog/Underdog feature portraits of its two stars, Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, as the title suggests, one above the other. But as you move from one side of the lenticular poster to the other, the images shift and the actors trade places—the first hint that things may not always be what they seem in the play’s series of deceptions.
The revival is directed by Tony winner Kenny Leon, who Hawkins says refers to the story as a fable. It runs until January 15, 2023. Hawkins and Abdul-Mateen play brothers Lincoln and Booth (their father’s idea of a joke) in the two-hander, each man in a constant struggle to stay on top. Lincoln (Hawkins) is a former three-card monte hustler who now makes his living as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, while Booth (Abdul-Mateen) spends his days stealing and trying to perfect his own card-dealing con.
“It all starts with the words,” says Abdul-Mateen of the pair’s exploration of the Pulitzer Prize-winning script by Suzan-Lori Parks. “We just started with the words and began to look for the truth, and that led us through this journey of brotherhood and family and love and humanity that is embedded in the play.”
On the page, the dialogue is written in the brothers’ vernacular, a place and time specified only as “here” and “now” in the first pages of the script. The playwright has built a musicality into the patter with “rests” and “spells.” Although there is a coarseness to the language, there is a sense that it is not base, but rather heightened...READ MORE