For the second presentation in its 2018-19 season, the QC Theatre Workshop will follow its recent hit Dead Man’s Cell Phone with the area debut of the widely adored, Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog. Running November 8 through 18, this 2001 work by Suzan-Lori Parks – the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer for Drama – is a riveting showcase for its two leading men, and a two-time Tony Award nominee that, according to the New York Times, “vibrates with the clamor of big ideas, audaciously and exuberantly expressed.”

 

Topdog/Underdog will be presented at the QC Theatre Workshop (1730 Wilkes Avenue, Davenport, IA) November 8 through 18, with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday performances at 3 p.m. Doors open a half hour before each performance, and the play’s adult language makes it appropriate for mature audiences only.

 

In Topdog/Underdog, our dual protagonists are African-American brothers Lincoln and Booth, names given to them by their father as a joke. Older brother Lincoln sits in an arcade all day, dressed as his presidential namesake, and spends his days being assassinated over and over again. Younger brother Booth, meanwhile, stays in their run-down apartment practicing to be a great three-card Monte hustler, as Lincoln was in his younger days.

 

A jagged, poetic look at the endgame between two black brothers in modern America, Topdog/Underdog was Tony-nominated for Best Play in addition to its Pulitzer Prize win, with author Parks saying of her work, “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.”

 

Making her directorial debut with Topdog/Underdog is longtime Workshop veteran Lis Athas, a frequent stage manager for the company who also appeared on-stage in last fall’s production of Almost, Maine. Describing the experience, Athas says, “Stepping into the director role has been absolutely energizing for me. I approach the script from a technical perspective, so I’m most interested in how the specific text and grammar used by the playwright dictates the pacing and emotional peaks of the show. Thankfully, Parks’ text is incredibly specific. She’ll do things like intentionally use or not use punctuation, she’ll slide the characters in and out of ebonics, and she’ll deliberately have them hold, silently, in the tension of a moment.”

 

“I’ve always loved this script and the relationship between its two characters,” adds the Workshop’s Artistic Director and Topdog/Underdog producer Aaron Randolph III. “It really delves into the idea of brotherhood under the duress of success and failure – how our sense of self-worth shapes our relationships. I think that’s a really universal topic, but in particular, this play’s focus on how that conflict shapes the identity of African-Americans in society today is very illuminating.

 

“It’s also considered by many to be one of the finest plays written since the turn of the century,” Randolph continues, “and it’s never been done in our area, so I felt like we should finally share it with our audience.”

 

Two Workshop veterans compose Topdog/Underdog’s cast: Jordan McGinnis (Lincoln), the Almost, Maine director who appeared in productions of Peter & the Starcatcher, Inheritors, and The Big Meal; and Michael Alexander (Booth), who made his Workshop debut this past summer in the musical comedy Reefer Madness. Both actors, and their director, say they’re relishing the opportunity to bring this acclaimed and vital work to the stage.

 

“I believe the importance of this script is to show that not everyone is born into an equal playing field,” says McGinnis. “That is to say, Lincoln and Booth, based on the script, did not have a childhood where they have access to the things so many of us take for granted.”

 

Alexander adds, “The themes that I think are most relevant throughout are brotherhood and what it means to be family – how prior family circumstances can shape the relationships that we have with certain family members. One of the things that captivated me most about this play is how a troubled relationship can ultimately shatter one’s future.”

 

“Working with the actors is thrilling,” says Athas, “because both of their characters are struggling with who they were or are, and who they want to be, so they have to flip back and forth between these versions of themselves throughout the show. There’s nothing like seeing that flip happen live. It’s surprising and just little bit scary, so they keep me on the edge of my seat.”

 

Topdog/Underdog will be presented under the QC Theatre Workshop’s “Pay What It’s Worth” pricing policy in which guests see the play first and then pay afterward, allowing viewers to determine what the experience was worth to them personally. This innovative strategy was designed to create a wholly accessible theatrical experience for patrons regardless of financial means, and the policy’s great success has allowed it to continue for Topdog/Underdog.

 

For reservations and more information on Topdog/Underdog, please call (563)823-8893 or e-mail QCTheatreWorkshop@gmail.com, and visit https://www.qctheatreworkshop.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/QCTheatreWorkshop/.

 

 

Topdog/Underdog performance schedule:

 

Thursday, November 8, 7:30pm

Friday, November 9, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, November 10, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, November 11, 3 p.m.

 

Thursday, November 15, 7:30pm

Friday, November 16, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, November 17, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, November 18, 3 p.m.

Tess Abney is a writer and artist from the Quad-Cities who enjoys writing on a variety of topics for QuadCities.com.