Rated 4.0

It’s a story as old as the book of Genesis: Jacob and Esau, two brothers jockeying for position and inheritance. The reason it resonates so well is because it’s a story we all know, and Celebration Arts’ production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize winner, Topdog/Underdog, adds poetic language and a dash of humor to the tale.

Opening night had its share of glitches—mostly with lighting and music—but those should be ironed out quickly. Under the able direction of Anthony D’Juan, noted locally for his work as author of Keeping the Dream Alive, And the Dream Goes On! and Safe At Home: The Jackie Robinson Story, this tale of two brothers, down on their luck and weighted with the baggage of the past, unfolds with intensity.

James R. Ellison III takes an understated approach to the street-wise Lincoln. His days as a hustler, he hopes, are over, but the pressures of life—including sharing a one-room flat with his little brother—are mounting. Ellison, who did an excellent job in Celebration Arts’ production of The Piano Lesson earlier this season, brings a deep current of hard-earned sorrow to the role of the elder brother.

If Lincoln is filled with sorrow, his younger brother, Booth, clings to hope of a better life, no matter what the evidence against it. Thomas Lee Wright III is the young, excitable, agitated, “I’m-gonna-get-mine-now” half of this sibling rivalry, and he radiates the nervous energy of his unstable character’s wishful thinking. Booth has managed to avoid reality; when forced to confront it, Wright ably demonstrates his character’s collapse.

This production, the first of Topdog/Underdog in the Sacramento area and the first time Celebration Arts has done a mid-week show, sparkles with energy and intensity. It’s a fine reminder of how quickly family conflict can assume Biblical proportions.