Theater Review

Lincoln and Booth were named that way as a joke by their dad-the same alcoholic dad who left them at ages 16 and 11, two years after their mother left. With the help of a small inheritance, the two boys were left to make it on their own. Suzan-Lori Parks’s captivating play “Topdog/Underdog,” playing at the Mark Taper Forum through March 28, catches up with these brothers, now young men living together in a shabby apartment. Lincoln (Harold Perrineau) has been kicked out by his wife Cookie, and Booth (Larry Gilliard, Jr.) is trying to get together with his girlfriend Grace. The action, directed by George C. Wolfe, takes place in the apartment with these two fine actors. Lincoln has a job-playing Abraham Lincoln at an arcade. He sits in whiteface with a fake beard, top hat and black coat, pretending to watch a performance, while arcade patrons try to “assassinate” him with a toy gun. The play, which goes back and forth between the comic and the tragic, achieves a comic peak while Lincoln practices in the apartment. With the help of lighting effects by Scott Zielinski, Lincoln pretends to be in a theater and unwrap candy or answer a cell phone before being shot. Booth doesn’t have a job. His talent is “boosting,” and he comes home to the apartment with things he’s shoplifted. And he practices three-card monte. Although these actors keep your attention glued on them throughout the show, watch out for the three-card monte scenes; the shifting cards are hypnotic. I found myself trying to guess-which one’s the black card, which one’s the red card. Booth lacks a talent for the con game-that talent belongs to his brother, who has retired from years on the street ripping off tourists and others. “Cards ain’t luck,” Lincoln says. “Cards is work.” Booth tries to talk his brother into going back to the street. Although Lincoln claims he put down the cards for good, the lure of the cards still entices him. Both brothers have demons calling them, an inheritance from their parents. “There was something out there they wanted more than they wanted us,” Booth says. The parents left them, driven by their own weaknesses. Will the brothers cave in as well? Just like the first Lincoln and Booth, this Lincoln and Booth also have a dark ending to their tale. “Topdog/Underdgog” is playing at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave, through March 28. Contact: (213) 628-2772.