It's a hustle, it's a scam, it's a con. Call it what you will, it's two brothers trying to survive. They're black men living in a dump. One's trying to be honest, the other the best booster ever. They have no one but themselves. Their daddy named them Lincoln and Booth. Some joke. Eddie Brown is Lincoln and Marckenson Charles is Booth and these two are blistering the stage at the Arsht in Zoetic Theatre's production of “Topdog/Underdog”, Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer winner from 2002.
Lights up and Booth is throwing three bent cards onto cardboard on two milk crates. He's practicing his 3-card monte and his patter is poetry. He's not very good. But he's enthusiastic. “Watch me close watch me close now: 3-card throws the cards lightning fast. 3-Card that's me and I'ma last. Watch me throw cause here I go...” and the patter and the throwing go on and on and Booth, wearing only underwear, is lost in his frantic moves. Until Lincoln enters; dressed as Abraham Lincoln in black pants, tail coat and black top hat. With a white face.
Lincoln used to be the top dog in the 3-card monte world, the finger flying best. Follow the red? Not a chance, sucker. And then his partner gets shot and he's feeling the guilt and he swears off the cards. Gets a job in the arcade, sitting in a chair, white face Abe, watching the upside down reflection of Lincoln killers sneaking up behind him, shooting him in the back of the head. It's a thrill, for them. An honest day's work for him. He feels the guilt.
His wife kicks him out, he sleeps on a recliner in Booth's room. No water, no toilet use a bucket share his pay check every Friday with Booth, listen to Booth remind him, over, over, over, how he slept with Lincoln's wife. He feels the guilt. But not enough. Not enough to agree with Booth's pleading to get back into the monte. He's Honest Abe right now. Worried he's going to be replaced by a dummy.
Booth is underdog, but that's okay, all the world likes an underdog. And Booth is the likeable scamp. A one woman man. Grace, the only girl for him. Anything for Grace. Diamond rings. Fake. Dinner on the monte cardboard, table cloth, champagne, crystal glasses, red negligee waiting, wearing best suit, shirt, tie, shoes and everything boosted. Grace coming over at eight, no show by two in the am. Fake.
There's dark humor is this piece: posing in front of a mirror, dressing in their stolen suits, Booth trying to hide his girlie magazines, Lincoln practicing his death scenes, Lincoln singing the blues (a pure delight) but underlying is the frustration of mere survival.
Michael McClain's brutally realistic set reflects the hopelessness of the two, uneducated, deserted by their parents, their dreams not enough.
Eddie Brown and Marckenson Charles enthrall. There's not a second's lag in this two act, two hour show.
The wonderfully invisible direction by Stuart Meltzer, the sound by Matt Corey, the lighting by Rebecca Montero and the costumes by Angelina Esposito are well up to Zoetic's standards and that's high, high, high.
“Topdog/Underdog” plays in the Carnival Studio Theatre in the Arsht Center through November 19. 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami. 305.949.6722. www.zoeticstage.org