Why did the hustler cross the road?
It sounds like the beginning of a joke—Lincoln and Booth share a rundown apartment … . Actually, it’s the beginning of a captivating and disconcerting 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks that explores the lifelong bond between brothers.
In Topdog/Underdog, Parks tells the story of two African-American brothers, absurdly named Lincoln and Booth by their father, who struggle with a shared past, a bleak present and a dubious future. This is the age-old saga of sibling rivalry: the love-hate, push-pull battles of brothers who have always had to swim upstream together, discarded along the way by mother, father, lovers, wives and friends.
Through the efforts of three talented visiting thespians, director Benny Sato Ambush and co-stars Hassan El-Amin and Adrian Roberts, the Sacramento Theatre Company delivers a fascinating production of Parks’ play. The three, all new to the Sacramento stage, work as a cohesive team, reveling in Parks’ poetic patter and interesting storyline. The trio works to overcome the weaknesses in the play when Parks overplays her hand, hitting the audience over the head when subtleties would prove more powerful.
Big brother Lincoln (El-Amin) and little brother Booth (Roberts) are street hustlers, one reformed, one still searching for the scam. Lincoln, trying to make a go of it with a straight job, is crashing at Booth’s dreary apartment after being kicked out by his wife. Booth, a booster, is trying to perfect the three-card Monte in the next step up in street schemes.
It’s clear when they shoot the shit, bang heads together or share bittersweet memories that these weary grown men have a brotherly bond. El-Amin and Roberts are a joy to watch as they team up against the world or heartbreaking as they clash with each other—it’s a potent partnership brought to life under the watchful eye of director Ambush.
Warning: Both the language and content of this play is for mature audiences.