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Theater review: 'Topdog/Underdog' at the Lillian Theatre

August 11, 2010 | 12:17 pm

Cain and Abel just can’t call it quits. “Topdog/Underdog,” now at the Lillian Theatre, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. But Suzan-Lori Parks’ savage comedy of sibling rivalry, race, and the American hustle, looks even more interesting in the Obama Era. Elder brother Lincoln (A.K. Murtadha) dons a fake beard and stovepipe hat for his boardwalk gig as a presidential target for amateur assassins in a shooting gallery. Upstart Booth (M.D. Walton, also producing) practices his three-card monte, trying to master the moves Lincoln abandoned years ago when his partner was killed. The two men, disowned by parents and wives, struggle to define themselves in a shockingly indifferent world: Think Godot meets NWA. Or our 44th president trying to negotiate the color line. 

Director Martin Papazian’s production offers plenty of texture, from Peter Wooley’s shabby apartment set, littered with porn magazines and milk crates, to Cricket S. Myers’ superb sound design, a jittery collage of jazz and rap. Yet despite strong performances, the storytelling feels muddy. Scenes feel impassioned but lack urgency, especially as the brothers turn on each other to survive. Were Lincoln and Booth dealt bad hands, or do they doom themselves? Parks keeps her cards to herself and lets the audience decide.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Topdog/Underdog” Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 12. $25. Contact: 323-960-7719 or Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Photo: M.D. Walton and A.K. Murtadha in 'Topdog/Underdog.' Credit: Randolph Adams Photography.