A Definitive Topdog
By Paul Atreides
Theatre critic at EatMoreArtVegas.com
Photos: Robert John Kley
“Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” is an old line used to ask if someone missed a significant point.
Topdog / Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award in 2002. Twenty years later, it won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. Typically billed as a drama, sometimes thought of as a tragedy, it’s also been called a dark comedy. In reality, it should be all those things which is why this play stands the test of time.
Under Tom W. Jones’ astute direction for the Vegas Theatre Company, it is indeed all those things. Jones and his talented cast of two hit every beat with precision and heart.
Jamey Clay, as Booth, and Jason Nious, as Lincoln, are brothers abandoned at a young age to fend for themselves. As adults, they’re still struggling to find their way. Their names, given to them by their father as somewhat of a cruel joke and not lost on them, still sting. And the irony of what Lincoln does for a living is not lost.
As their character names imply, Clay is at times a dreamer, frenetic and impulsive, and Nious is thoughtful and mellow but realistic. Both men turn in tour de force performances. Their body language and dialogue delivery seem to come from deep down- from the truth.
At the top of the show Clay delivers a monologue full of hope, the joy of life fairly drips from him. Toward the end of Act 1, Nious brings a beautiful and heartfelt remembrance of his days hustling 3-Card Monte. Both are done with a skill rarely seen on local stages.
Through it all, the point of Parks’ script is not lost. The importance of family, the idea that we are all family, and that connection is not only important but essential to our survival. As Parks once noted, the play speaks to what the world thinks we should be and how we struggle to live up to it. Or, in this critic’s opinion, how we try to move past it.
The action takes place on a set by Raquel M. Jackson so detailed it draws the picture of where these two characters are in life. In a skilled choice to keep the atmosphere and sense of character, Booth sets it for Act 2 during the intermission.
Lincoln: Jason Nious
Booth: Jamey Clay Brown
Director: Thomas W Jones II
Scenic: Raquel M Jackson
Costume Design: Christine Steele
Lighting Design: Marcus Randolf
Sound Design: Ganvieè Matunda & Jake Harrell
Stage Manger: Gary Parlanti
Don’t miss this production. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but you’ll also leave thinking about the world we’re currently struggling to survive. And that, my friends, is what superb theater should do.
What: Topdog / Underdog
When: 7:30 pm Friday
2:00 pm and 7:30 pm Saturday
5 pm Sunday
Through February 24
Where: 1025 S. 1st St., Suite 110
Tickets: $35 - $60 (www.theatre.vegas)
Grade: ***** Delicious
Producer: Vegas Theatre Company; Artistic Director: Daz Weller; Director: Tom W. Jones; Set Design: Raquel M. Jackson; Lighting Design: Marcus Randolf; Costume Design: Christine Steele