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Top Dog Under Dog

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  3,529 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews

A darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity is Suzan-Lori Parks latest riff on the way we are defined by history. The play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. Haunted by the past, the brothers are forced to confront the shattering reality of the

Paperback, 110 pages
Published (first published June 1st 2001)
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Alex Cunningham
May 29, 2007 Alex Cunningham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: underdogs, also topdogs
Pulitzer Prize? Who cares. MacArthur "Genius" grant? No big deal. The literary establishment rightly has buried this play with praise, none of it able to bear weight once you've read or seen this play. The words are electric. The subtext is playfully obvious and rife with tension. The requisite "bucking of literary conventions" turns out to be a miraculous way to depict rhythm on the page. Lori-Parks knocks this one right out of the stadium and into your lap.

ps: Don Cheadle premiered the role of
Francisco Cardona
I saw this play some years ago when the A.C.T. performed it in San Francisco. I remember enjoying the rhythm of the language that carried the play. But recently, I wanted to start searching for literature that was focused on how generations inform one another. Especially after Ferguson, where there arose two types of discourse about what happened. On the one hand, the events were being described as an isolated incident where someone broke the law that led to tragic consequences. On the other han ...more
Nov 27, 2014 MacK rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This year I put a little more focus on teaching dramatic literature, stuff that comes in script form. It's a lot easier for students to immerse themselves in a world where actions and words are all that matter (and descriptions and imagery are minimal).

First came Susan Lori-Parks' Top Dog/Underdog, a rather daring piece of theatre from 2001. I first read it when my brother Matt showed me just how powerful modern plays could be in comparison with the classics. How honest and raw was this relation
Jan 09, 2008 Tung rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
The 2002 Pulitzer winner for drama. This two-person play focuses on two African-American brothers and their struggle with their past (their childhood and their abandonment by both parents) and their present (both are down-on-their-luck). Lincoln is the older brother whose internal conflict weighs security and responsibility against respectability and success and the chance to make money illegally. Booth is the younger brother who dreams big dreams about himself, who wants to live bigger than he ...more
Jan 20, 2012 Mickey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a playwright I really appreciate this play. The characters are well rounded and incredible to watch. There's a wonderful musical rhythm to Parks' writing that shines in this piece. The set up of two brothers named Booth and Lincoln with Lincoln dressing up part time as Honest Abe at an arcade pretty much tells you how it's going to end but watching them get there is a incredible journey. Booth's desperate desire to be like his brother when he was a hustler and Lincoln's desire to avoid becomi ...more
May 08, 2012 Shanae rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recommend everything written by Suzan-Lori Parks and Topdog/Underdog is no exception. Parks is a very down-to-earth sister. Her love of American history is so pervasive throughout her work. I'm a really big fan of hers. Topdog/Underdog has been one of the most fascinating literary works, I've read this year. This play is only a about 120 pages and can easily be read in one day, but it's the themes and ideas at work in the play that keep you thinking for about a week. It's worth it, though.
2002 Pulitzer: one of the most disturbing and forceful plays I've ever read. I just kept thanking my lucky stars that I was reading it and not watching it be performed, I just don't know how my psyche would digest everything in this play. Powerful.
Jul 12, 2008 Graph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
love this play,great story, and amazing to see it live again and again, a story that is illuminated even brighter by interpretation of director and actors in each production, it's like a story that's never the same whenever you see it!
Ana Rînceanu
The symbolism in this play was great and I need to see this play performed. What kind of a father names his sons Lincoln and Booth?
Sidik Fofana
(SIX WORD REVIEW): The Ghetto Cain and Abel...meh.
Raw and riveting, Topdog/Underdog is a play worth remembering.

Being required reading for my Intro to Theatre class, I had no idea what to expect from this play. I was surprised from the first page, and as I continued to read, the quick, brutal beat to it really captured me. It is a tragic tale of brothers and the turbulent relationship between them; so tense and rough like sandpaper, yet teeming with blistering emotion. Once I fell into it, I was pleasantly gripped, and then sadly released by th
Michael Meeuwis
Nov 20, 2016 Michael Meeuwis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here's something I would say about plays only rarely: this is a genuinely gripping read, start to finish.
Phanesia Pharel
Dec 30, 2016 Phanesia Pharel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the greatest plays ever written.
Nov 14, 2016 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
The closing scene packs an unbelievable wallop.
Jessica Barkl
This is the summary I found in goodreads:
"A darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity is Suzan-Lori Parks latest riff on the way we are defined by history. The play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. Haunted by the past, the brothers are forced to confront the shattering reality of their future."

I chose this play because many of my students at SUNY Sullivan are Afric
Rui Carlos da Cunha
Learning about the Three-Card Monte routine from a play is brilliant.

Now I have a slight understanding into what might take place in cities where tourists are plenty and some are gullible enough to fall for a street hustler like Link/Lincoln. That the end of the play is tragic is hardly news when Booth/3-Card always has a gun on him.

Perhaps I have a more vivid imagination than others for envisioning this play on the stage just by reading the text. I wish others could have enjoyed the writing st
Dec 27, 2012 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
My Amazon review: Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize winning play, Topdog Underdog, shows the strength of Parks' ability to write convincing dialogue, to develop memorable characters and in the process to create something of a meaningful nature. Certainly this two-man play contains black male stereotypes that are uncomfortable to deal with, however this seems to be the point. While the reader hopes that Lincoln and Booth are caricatures, or at the very least are only representative of an extinct p ...more
Sep 24, 2008 Daniel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays, theatre
Generally I've been surprisingly impressed with the Pulitzer Prize winning dramas. Often I find major award winning writing to be over-hype crap. The Pulizter's for drama that I have read have been pleasant gems. Until now.

This 2002 award winner, is the story of two African-American brothers (Lincoln and Booth), sorting out their lives. They hustle, steal, con, and try to work legitimate-but-low-paying jobs. Their past is nearly as amorphous as their future.

One of the ways in which I rate plays
Jan 02, 2014 Ari rated it it was amazing
I have no idea why I put this book on my reading list in 2010, I forgot all about it until I was looking through my 'to-read' Goodreads section and saw this title. I had to read the book for my African American Literary Drama class during the spring 2013 semester. I am so so glad I had the opportunity to read this book. My only regret is that I did not see it live with Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright or Mos Def and Jeffery Wright.

The rhythmic nature of the story and the dialogue, the large shado
Joshua Novalis
Topdog/Underdog is an intriguing post-modernish play documenting the strained, yet loving relationship between two card-hustling brothers, aptly named Lincoln and Booth. Suzan-Lori Parks definitely shows her ability to shoot energy to her audience through the electric dialogue between Lincoln and Booth, making the play feel truly alive. Lincoln and Booth are both strongly realized characters, displaying strengths, weaknesses, desires, passions, and struggles. I truly enjoyed their conversations ...more
Oct 27, 2012 Lianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have also read Suzan-Lori Parks' novel Getting Mother's Body, and her play Venus and I am continuously impressed with her. I love the way she writes language the way it would be spoken: sometimes difficult to understand, not always with proper grammar, and different for each person.

Topdog/Underdog tells the story of two brothers: Lincoln, the topdog, and Booth (aka 3-card), the underdog, who are obsessed with the street con game three-card monte. Lincoln describes why they were given their nam
Peter Orvetti
I was not sure what to make of this play. It deals with two adult brothers living in shared quarters, some years after being abandoned first by their mother and later by their father. Lincoln was a master Three-Card Monte hustler who retired after one of his crew was the victim of violence; his brother Booth now wants to take up his brother's mantle but lacks his talent. Lincoln now has a strange job dressing up as his historical namesake in a seedy arcade gallery and letting people shoot him wi ...more
Dec 05, 2011 Peter rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I am a casual reader of drama and a casual theater-goer; so take my opinion here for what it is worth. I picked up Topdog/Underdog because it had won a Pulitzer Prize. I was very disappointed. 109 pages of largely inane dialog that ends with tragedy -- tragedy that I as a reader did not feel a bit. There is a certain cleverness here: characaters named Booth and Lincoln; Lincoln works as Abe Lincoln at an arcade where he is shot throughout the day. This play obviously did something for other read ...more
Alexander Davidson
Brothers Booth and Lincoln seemed destined for failure, but they continue to keep working to improve their lives. Lincoln's wife has just kicked him out of the house so he is sleeping in his brother's apartment on the La-Z-Boy. Booth is without a job but gets by lifting items and relying on Lincoln's paycheck. Lincoln is... a Lincoln impersonator (a black Lincoln in white-face). He sits at an arcade and people get to come up and shoot him. (Weird.) Lincoln gave up his life in the three-card-mont ...more
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I'd love to see this play, mostly because it's just two actors on a simple set with a lot of slang in the dialogue. It definitely leaves a lot of room for direction and chemistry between actors. That said, it was a quick read. I appreciate that it's a dialogue-driven play where little happens onstage but most of the development is in the audience's view of the characters. I also like how 3-card monte became more of a character in itself, causing Booth and Link to share more about themselves. We ...more
Edward Cheer
Oct 16, 2015 Edward Cheer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is one of the smallest cast of characters I've read in a play to date. Two characters. Lincoln and Booth. That's it. The other characters are only mentioned outside of the one house that these brothers live in. And this is certainly one of the heaviest, funniest, and darkest plays I've read so far- blending the three elements with excellent pacing. And the element of three-card monte adds a level of suspense that the dynamic of Lincoln and Booth's relationship (something similar with the ga ...more
Nov 10, 2007 Lindsay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because my mother and I are die hard Mos Def fans (he's so reserved, cute and complex!) but without my undying love, this play could stand on its own. This riveting, and ultimately ironic play holds the reader 'til the very last page. While the finale is the climax of the play, it leaves you questioning the actual end. Where do sibling rivalries end? Are they fated to happen? This really hit home for me considering my brother and I are viciously competitive… But despite their co ...more
Samuel Oluwatobi Olatunji
This is one of the most daring dramatic literary pieces that I have read. It's a play on the African American experience of two brothers (Lincoln and Booth), who struggle to survive in different ways. They try to overcome their past (of being abandoned by their parents), and try to conquer their gloomy present. It's amazing how difficult situations can break a family apart. Definitely, tough times make one to take tough decisions, even if it means betraying someone one loves.

The language of this
Apr 05, 2010 Darius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Darius by: Lindsey Stoddard
This play has a cool allegorical or even mythological feel that appeals to me, without ever straying from the real and immediate relationship these two brothers have. There's a great balance in the text between thoroughly writing these characters and freedom for a production to perform these rolls very differently. The makings of pretty juicy moments in pretty innocuous-looking lines. It's interesting being uncertain of how the characters feel during most of the text, though, and liking that. Wo ...more
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Suzan-Lori Parks is an award-winning American playwright and screenwriter. She was a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant in 2001, and received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002. She is married to blues musician Paul Oscher.

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