Onstage at Broadway’s Golden Theater, a game of Three Card Monte provides rapturous entertainment to patrons privileged to peek into the antics of two brothers bound by family and commitment.
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Suzan-Lori Parks, “Topdog/Underdog” features Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Corey Hawkins in a game of sleight of hand witty maneuvers that dominate their daily routine.
Parks named the card shuffling siblings Lincoln and Booth, familiar characters who were real life history-makers in America. Lincoln was the 16th President of the US — who was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at a theater.
According to the first Black female to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the parodied Lincoln and Booth were given the names by their parents as a joke. She applied creative license throughout using references to illustrate a storyline that questions the role of parents in deciding the path of their off-springs.
Directed by Kenny Leon, his talent prevails with scenic settings on sidewalk locations, a one-room dwelling, and into imaginary spots the brothers traverse.
The two-man production engages riveting drama by posturing each brother as competitors in winning/losing rivalry. Six scenes explain their responsibility in defining a mindset America already brokered.
Returning after two decades on Broadway at the Ambassador Theater, this must-see production plays tricks while providing thought-provoking, sleight of hand unpredictability to invisible individuals who seem to appear onstage yet remain imaginary.
Each scene transitions with musical appreciation of current trends that enable the brothers to switch positions much like the actual cards they tease gullible optimists.
In the game, there is no decided winner. Only opportunities to advance chances for further scoring.
Leon brings his unique artistry to a set George C. Wolfe defined when Topdog/Underdog premiered off-Broadway in 2002.
The actors are superlative. Each able to capture the essence of characters portraying gamblers, they also portray the angst of striving Black men unable to free themselves from a troubled past.
Separately, Lincoln and Boothe provoke deliberation.
Together, the duo provide an important platform first staged at the Public Theater with Jeffrey Wright/Don Cheadle and Mos Def, the brothers in conflict.
Running time is two hours and 20 minutes.
The play is booked for a limited 16-week engagement ending on Jan. 15.