Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks directs her own Pulitzer Prize winning play TOPDOG/ UNDERDOG — starring a pair of brothers as a pair of brothers — when Two River Theater Company opens its new mainstage season this weekend.


For centuries, the irresistible promise of quick cash money has kept the classic betting game known as Three Card Monte — or Find the Lady, the Old Shell Game, and dozens of other variants — a favorite draw on street corners and cardboard boxes worldwide. This despite the fact that things are pretty much never quite as they appear, to put it diplomatically.

Ten years ago, no less an entity than the Pulitzer Board recognized the eternal allure of the game by awarding that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama to the Suzan-Lori Parks play Topdog/Underdog — a tale of two brothers, three cards, and a collective past that can’t be escaped.

As the first African American woman to have been awarded the Drama Prize, Parks made history. And, on the tenth anniversary of that theatrical milestone, Two River Theater Company artistic director John Dias and managing director Michael Hurst return to the play that they helped develop in its premiere at NYC’s Public Theater — with the playwright herself on board as director for this inaugural offering of TRTC’s 2012-2013 mainstage season.

While her résumé also boasts an additional Pulitzer nomination, an Obie award and a MacArthur Genius Grant, the playwright and screenwriter, who was raised in a Germany-based military family (and who garnered huzzahs for her adaptation of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, itself a Tony winner this year for Best Musical Revival), won acclaim for capturing the sad, seedy, SRO world of brothers Lincoln and Booth. Upping the ante on the excitement of Parks’ personal participation is the fact that the siblings with those weirdly conflicting first names are being portrayed here by a pair of real-life brothers.

In the intimate setting of the script, Brandon J. Dirden (seen earlier this year in TRTC’s production of August Wilson’s Jitney) appears as older brother Lincoln — a man whose curriculum vitae involves working as a shooting-arcade human target, dressed like Honest Abe. He’s also a man whose split with his spouse has deposited him at the downscale digs of his younger brother Booth, played by Jason Dirden (a co-star in the 2010 Broadway revival of Wilson’s Fences). Over the course of the humor-laced dramatic action, the brothers reopen old wounds, argue the finer points of the three-card street game, and show off some fine stolen clothes — only to find that in the process of “striving for a better life, bound by their love for each other, they are haunted by their own pasts — and our country’s history.”

The Drama Desk at redbankgreen spoke to Brandon (who was then just wrapping up his contribution to the Tony and Pulitzer-winning Clybourne Park on Broadway) and Jason at the edge of a grueling round of rehearsals. Turn that card over for more…

More →