A bold new season of theatre is on the way at Canadian Stage!
On September 27, I was invited to the opening night of Topdog/Underdog by Pulitzer Prize winner for drama Suzan-Lori Parks (The Great Debaters, Their Eyes Were Watching God) and directed by Dora Award-winner Tawiah M’Carthy (Obaaberima, Fairview).
This play is a creative doozie. It builds up and escalates until the unimaginable crescendo occurs. Mazin Elsadig and Sébastien Heins are brilliant. They are the only two actors present on stage, and their energies and performances speak for themselves. As brothers Booth and Lincoln, respectively, the actors’ presence are both striking and meagre, excessive and feeble, braggadocious and muted. Watching firsthand how these siblings treat each other with malice, discontent, and sometimes even disdain, yet all-encompassed in their version of what love is, is difficult to swallow. But understanding the power struggle between the two and how the heated sibling rivalry comes into play is what’s at the heart of this play.
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Booth is the slick-mouthed, ill-tempered hustler who is more on a ‘his way or the highway’ trip. Instead of earning a decent living, he’s more focused on bringing in easy money by working his brother’s old illicit three-card monte game. While his brother Lincoln is the complete opposite. He’s timid, seems to easily be taken advantage of and works at a gig as President Lincoln while getting paid less than his white counterparts. Both men clash in what’s presented as a pull-and-tug between the two over the past, present, and what the future could bring.
It was my first time seeing this play, but I’m sure it’s a theatre play with great reviews (I checked, and it is. It didn’t win the Pulitzer for nothing). I felt the tension, animosity and power struggle between the siblings from jump. What started on somewhat of an even ground compounded into an off-kilter battle of personalities. It continuously escalated as the conversations became darker and unjust. I have heard about the piece, but I didn’t know anything but the synopsis going in. Judging by the acting and premise of the play, I felt and knew where the outcome was heading. It’s spirited, tense, complicated and kicks you in the gut. It’s phenomenal.
My only argument is about the run time. With a 20-minute intermission, be ready for a 2.5-hour watch time, and it does crawl at times. Mind you, I also get that the time was used to build upon the characters’ positions and the outcome. Besides that, my warning is to take heed—the context is heavy, and there may be issues or subject matter that can be triggering for attendees. You can read up about the play beforehand or prepare yourself for one hell of a ride. Either way, this is well worth the watch.
You can catch Topdog/Underdog at Canadian Stage from September 24th to October 15. Buy your tickets here.
Until next time…