Topdog/Underdog

Play about brothers who grew up without strong guidance debuts on Perseverance Theatre's second stage

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2006

"Topdog/Underdog," the new play on Persev-erance Theatre's second stage, chronicles two unfortunately named brothers - Lincoln and Booth - full of resentment for the world and each other.

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Their parents named them after Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, as a joke. The father gave Lincoln some money, and left. The mother funneled Booth some cash, and also split.

The brothers live together in a Brooklyn flophouse in perpetual tension, haunted by their past and gazing into a future with few prospects.

Lincoln has given up his job as a three-card monte tosser after one of his colleagues was shot on the street. He has a job impersonating President Lincoln, in whiteface, at a carnival. People line up to shoot him in the back of the head with a cap gun. But he longs for his former street credibility. Booth gets by "boosting," or shoplifting, rather than working a 9-to-5 job. He wants the notoriety of a tosser, and even calls himself "Three Card." But he lacks Lincoln's skills.

Jordan Barbour (Lincoln), recently Hud in "Hair," studied voice at The Juilliard School and American studies at Columbia University. He was 21 when he saw a version of "Topdog" on Broadway starring Mos Def as Booth and Jeffery Wright as Lincoln.

"I had never seen anything like it," Barbour said. "It was totally life-changing, an incredible night of theater."

"It doesn't leave you with any sort of hopeful feeling, but I think there's something to be said for that," he said. "We're not babies, and I don't think theater has to be an art form that leaves you with a positive message. You're supposed to leave the theater disturbed."

The story earned playwright Suzan-Lori Parks the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in drama, and Juneau theatergoers may remember Persever-ance's mainstage production of another Parks play, "In the Blood," during the 2000-2001 season.

what: "topdog/underdog," a perseverance theatre second stage production.

where: perseverance phoenix room, to the left of the main entrance.

when: 7:30 p.m. thursday-sunday, may 25-28.

admission: pay-as-you-can.

Director Flordelino Lagundino, recently "Woof" in Perseverance's production of "Hair," saw the play a few years ago at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and found it too bleak. He once considered directing it at the University of Texas, but found the text too dense.

"I was trying to figure out what it was about the play that I could attach myself to and find myself in," Lagundino said. "I find things that I don't understand about the play still, because I'm an outsider. I do connect to it in the sense that I'm a minority living in the United States."

Jermaine Small (Booth), a recent graduate of Howard University, was also in "Hair." He worked on a few scenes from the play as part of a speech team rehearsal in college. He saw a version of the play at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C.

"Looking at Lincoln, you would think he was the good guy, the protagonist," Small said. "He's sort of the top dog, the favorite person. Booth would be the antagonist. Of course, there's a lot more in the play.

"To me, the story is not bleak at all," Small said. "It's heavy. You have two brothers, one of whom slept with the other brother's wife, and they're still close. You have poeple dealing with death, loss and their parents leaving them. You have prents who picked sides. It's a story of brothers who grew up without having strong parental guidance."

"Lincoln is supposed to be a free black man liberated by the man he's playing, but he's a slave to the system ultimately," Barbour said. "The emancipation that black men are supposed to have is not there for me, and he and his brother are sort of screwed by the system. They really don't have a way out. That being said, they don't look for a way out."



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