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Written by Suzan-Lori Parks
Date premiered July 26, 2001 (2001-07-26)
Place premiered The Public Theater
Original language English

Topdog/Underdog is a play by Suzan-Lori Parks. Parks received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002 for the work.


The play chronicles the adult lives of two African American brothers, Lincoln and Booth, as they cope with women, work, poverty, gambling, racism, and their troubled upbringings. Their parents deserted the brothers when they were youngsters, and they became dependent on each other. Lincoln (in his late 30s), who had been an expert Three-card Monte player, lives with his younger brother Booth (in his early 30s), because his wife asked him to leave. He has taken a job as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. Booth is trying to become a "card Shark", but is not successful, and turns to shoplifting.

Production history[edit]

Topdog/Underdog opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater on July 26, 2001 and closed on September 2, 2001. Directed by George C. Wolfe, Don Cheadle (as Booth) and Jeffrey Wright (as Lincoln) starred.[1][2] The play opened on Broadway at the Ambassador Theatre on April 7, 2002 and closed on August 11, 2002. Cheadle was replaced by Mos Def; direction was by George C. Wolfe.[1] The play transferred to London at the Royal Court Theatre in 2003, with the same Broadway cast, and directed by Wolfe.[1]

In September 2012, Topdog/Underdog was produced by the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, New Jersey.[3]

A 2011 production at the Shaw Festival in Canada starred Kevin Hanchard as Booth and Nigel Shawn Williams as Lincoln.[4] This production had a second run at The Theatre Centre in Toronto later in the same year through Obsidian Theatre Company.[5] Hanchard and Williams were both nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Principal Role – Play at the 2012 Dora Mavor Moore Awards; Williams won the award.[6] Director Philip Akin also won the Dora for Outstanding Direction of a Play/Musical.


Parks commented on the meaning of the play: “I think the meaning of the play isn’t just confined to a man’s experience... I think it’s about what it means to be family and, in the biggest sense, the family of man, what it means to be connected with somebody else." She noted that the play speaks to "who the world thinks you’re going to be, and how you struggle with that.”[7]


Critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote "The play, first produced downtown at the Joseph Papp Public Theater last year, vibrates with the clamor of big ideas, audaciously and exuberantly expressed. Like Invisible Man Ralph Ellison's landmark novel of 1952, 'Topdog/Underdog' considers nothing less than the existential traps of being African-American and male in the United States, the masks that wear the men as well as vice versa. But don't think for a second that Ms. Parks is delivering a lecture or reciting a ponderous poem. Under the bravura direction of George C. Wolfe, a man who understands that showmanship and intellectual substance are not mutually exclusive, 'Topdog/Underdog' is a deeply theatrical experience."[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama[9]
  • 2002 Lucille Lortel Award, Outstanding Actor, Jeffrey Wright (nominee)
  • 2002 Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Play (nominee)
  • 2002 Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Actor, Jeffrey Wright (nominee)
  • 2002 Outer Critics Circle Award, Outstanding Director of a Play (Wolfe)
  • 2001-2002 Obie Award, Performance (Wright) and Direction (Wolfe) (winners)
  • 2001-2002 Outer Critics Circle Award, Outstanding John Glassner Award, Playwriting, Parks (winner)
  • 2001-2002 Outer Critics Circle Award, Outstanding Special Achievement Award. Wright (winner)
  • 2001-2002 Outer Critics Circle Award, Outstanding Special Achievement Award, Mos Def (winner)
  • 2002 Tony Award, Best Play (nominee)
  • 2002 Tony Award, Best Actor in Play (Wright) (nominee)


  1. ^ a b c Sommer, Elyse, Loveridge, Lizzie and Gutman, Les. " Togdog/Underdog Reviews", April 12, 2002
  2. ^ Topdog/Underdog,, accessed May 19, 2015
  3. ^ Gates, Anita. "Deception and Betrayal, 'All in the Family' " New York Times, September 23, 2012.
  4. ^ "Topdog/Underdog: Shaw scores with an intriguing, edgy drama". The Globe and Mail, August 8, 2011.
  5. ^ "Theatre Review: Topdog/Underdog". NOW, December 1, 2011.
  6. ^ "33rd Annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards". Theatromania, June 25, 2012.
  7. ^ Reich, Ronni. "'Topdog/Underdog': A playwright interpreting her own words", September 7, 2012
  8. ^ Brantley, Ben. "Not to Worry, Mr. Lincoln, It's Just A Con Game." The New York Times, April 8, 2002.
  9. ^ "Pulitzer Prize, Drama, 2002", accessed May 19, 2015

External links[edit]