Lincoln and Booth will meet on the stage tonight and, no, not at Ford's Theatre. The historically resonant names of American's greatest president and his assassin are also those of the two brothers featured in Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog, which opens at the Ambassador Theatre April 7, after previews from March 12. George C. Wolfe directs.
Jeffrey Wright and rapper Mos Def star as the warring siblings. The brothers were named by their father as a joke. Lincoln (played by Wright) spends his days as a white-face impersonator of the 16th president, while Booth (Mos Def) shoplifts suits and expensive champagne. The brothers are haunted by the past and their obsession with the street con game, three card monte. They eventually come to learn the true nature of their history. The two strive for a family unity they have never had, but end up battling to the death.
Topdog/Underdog has been submitted as a candidate for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The award will be announced April 8, one day after the drama's opening. An earlier Parks play, In the Blood, has previously been considered for the Pulitzer.
Parks' In the Blood played the Public in 1999-2000, and her Fucking A will play at the theatre in the 2002-03 season. Rap star Mos Def replaced original star Don Cheadle as Booth. Cheadle played the role in the Off Broadway Public Theater production last year. As film actor Cheadle ("Ocean's 11") became unavailable, director Wolfe turned to Mos Def (nee Dante Smith), who has appeared in "Bamboozled," "Where's Marlowe," "Island of the Dead," and "Monster's Ball." Mos Def met Wolfe when the latter auditioned for a projected film of the musical Jelly's Last Jam.
Topdog was Wolfe's first directing assignment after 1999-2000's The Wild Party. He also directed Elaine Stritch At Liberty at the Public in fall 2001 prior to the current move to Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre. Thus, Wolfe now has two shows running on Broadway.
Topdog/Underdog designers are Riccardo Hernandez (scenic), Emilio Sosa (costumes), Scott Zielinski (lighting) and Dan Moses Schreier (sound).
The Ambassador Theatre is at 219 W. 49th Street. Topdog/Underdog tickets range $35-$75. For information, call (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250.
According to Telecharge, Mos Def will not be performing at the April 13 2 PM and 8 PM, and April 28 2 PM and 7 PM shows.
Topdog is one of an unusually large number of new plays to open on Broadway this season. Others include Edward Albee's The Goat, Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway, Michele Lowe's The Smell of the Kill, Heather McDonald's An Almost Holy Picture, Peter Parnell's QED and Terry Johnson's The Graduate.
—By Robert Simonson