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TOPDOG/UNDERDOG by Christopher Lei, Jake Silver, and Joseph Toye

Posted by on Sunday, March 10, 2019 in 1010 blog posts, Analysis Essay, Blog posts, News, Production Review.

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Suzan-Lori Parks wrote the play Topdog/Underdog; it was performed from February 9th to February 24th at Johnson Theater at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville, Tennessee. On the night of February 15th, the audience was composed of local Nashville theater enthusiasts and a handful of Vanderbilt theater students. Topdog/Underdog delineates the story of two brothers juggling work, women, money, racism, and cards. Former Tennessee Titan, Eddie George was casted for Lincoln and Joel Diggs for Booth.

“The meaning of the play isn’t just confined to a man’s experience,” says the playwright, Suzan-Lori Parks. “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… The play speaks to who the world thinks you’re going to be, and how you struggle with that.”

Lincoln and Booth hold a unique relationship, that can best be described as sturdily tenuous. While Lincoln and Booth cannot change their names or upbringing, they can change their paths in life. Oscillating between supporting each other and disagreeing about everything, these two brothers will find out what it takes to come out on top.


Christopher, Jake, and Joseph met in a conference room at 3:10 P.M. on the 8th of Central Library on Sunday, February 24th to collaboratively analyze the performance. This was an incredibly sunny day with a slight breeze; the shades were fully opened to let the natural light in. The toasty room was absolutely silent other than the group member voices. Jake and Christopher sat next other facing Joseph away from the windows.

  • Christopher Lei is a senior majoring in Economics and minoring in Business. He is awaiting graduation to begin a new career in Charlotte, North Carolina as a Business Analyst for Red Ventures.
  • Jake Silver is a first-year majoring in Human and Organizational Development and minoring in Business. He is currently working to get a tutoring company off the ground.
  • Joseph Toye is a senior majoring in Economics. He is a member of the Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball Team. This past summer he interned at Farmington Mortgage a division of Capstar bank where he worked alongside one of the lead mortgage loan officers.

JT: To get this thing started, I think we should set the scene both physically and personally in order to give an accurate analysis. What did you first notice about the play?

JS: Well when I heard it was at TPAC, I had big expectations that the play was going to be in a massive auditorium and this was very far from the case. After we sat down and I inspected the stage, I noticed that it was a square with one back wall; the audience surrounded the entire stage other than this wall. Since I have never seen anything like this, both physically a small play and a play that was clearly going to be theatrical realistic, I was very surprised. When only two guys walked out with no costumes, music, or backdrops, I knew something was different and this performance was going to be different than something like Wicked or Hamilton.

CL, smiling: Having been in Nashville for almost four years and having never seen a live theatre performance, I was very excited about this opportunity. Topdog/Underdog is a play that I had read before, so I was curious to see how it would translate to a live performance. Upon arrival, I saw the sheer size of the TPAC, so I was expecting the performance to take place on a stage similarly grand. As Jake said, the setting was actually impressively intimate with the stage itself being surrounded on three sides by viewers.

CL: What did you guys think about the casting choices made by the director?

JS: I haven’t heard of either actor before so the exact choice of person had no impact on me; however, after seeing the roles and how the actors performed them, I can say that the casting choices were perfect. Not only did the personalities fit the role, but the physical characteristics of the actors emulated the power struggle between the characters perfectly. Also, the fact that Eddie George, a former Tennessee Titan was faceted is very interesting because it is a known stereotype that football players are always the most powerful people.

JT, eyes opened: That’s interesting. Coming into the production, I had heard of Eddie George for his football prowess and being a Heisman trophy winner. I was eager to see him perform outside of an athletic event, and in the realm of theatre. I felt he fit the mold of Lincoln perfectly because of his funny personality to go along with his large body which contrasted to Booth, who was skinny and seemed to have more of a dark side to him.

CL: I agree, I knew Eddie George for his accolades on the football field, but had no clue that his career had progressed into theatre. Aside from that, I didn’t know what to expect. Having seen the two individuals in their respective roles, I felt that the director did a quality job selecting these two men. George did a good job representing the nonchalance of Lincoln, while Diggs provided the direct antithesis for a neurotic Booth.

Joel Diggs (Booth) and Eddie George (Lincoln) perform in “Topdog/Underdog” on February 15th, 2019.

Joel Diggs (Booth) and Eddie George (Lincoln) perform in “Topdog/Underdog” on February 15th, 2019.

JT: Was there anything interesting about the set that caught your eye?

JS, leaning forward: Right when I saw the set, my first thought was “is this it?” As previously stated, I expected the stage to be in a grand auditorium since I imaged TPAC to be a large venue where the largest performances in Tennessee come. This set was different not only to my initial expectation but of all previous performances I have seen. This play was theoretically realistic so the set was relatively simple with two doors (one for a closet, one for an entrance/exit), a bed, sofa, cards, and crates stacked with a cardboard box on top. This design all resided in a house with one window where shaded lights rested from the backdrop while one crooked light was hanging from the middle of the set. The crookedness caught Professor Essin’s eye and further made me interested after she pointed it out since it was extreme attention to detail, both on the designers part and the audience members.

CL: I think rather than something from the set itself that caught my eye, it was more so the layout of the audience in relation to the set that I found interesting. As aforementioned, the audience surrounded the stage from three sides and the seating was bleacher style so the further back you got the more of an aerial type view you got. Oh! I did think the scattered playing cards that completely surrounded the stage was a cool touch. Like a way for the audience to feel that the stage was created specifically for Topdog/Underdog, with the game three card monty being an integral theme.

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CL: Why do you think the stage engineers chose to do everything that we just mentioned?

JS: Something I learned in all English classes when I analyze a piece of writing was that authors always intentionally “make moves” where their chosen form follows a specific function. Similarly, the stage engineers choose to make specific realistic choices that create a window of the world on a stage that asks us, the audience members, to accept their scenes as reality. This concept was the overarching form used where specific miniature forms played into that… like the lightbulb, I mentioned earlier. For instance, the old crooked light bulb revealed that the brothers were really poor and didn’t care about small things in their lives. Also, the cards around the bottom of the stage could show the crazy obsession that Booth had with power.

JT: First thing that comes to mind for me is the constant set. Coming into the play I thought that it would be a moving set where different areas of characters lives would be shown, but Booth and Lincoln’s apartment was the only place shown. I personally enjoyed the set being in their home because, after work, home is where people come to decompress from everything that happened during the day. Also with there being only two actors on set for the play, it was easier to analyze their thought processes and struggles because it wasn’t tainted by other characters opinions. The relationship between the two brothers was able to stay at the forefront of the production because there were no other characters to distract their interactions.

CL: I also think the stage engineers chose the setup that they did in order to enhance the closeness of the set and to offer an intimate view into the personal lives of the two characters as almost all of the dialogues and monologues took place within the boundaries of the apartment.

JT: How did you as an audience member remember participating and how did y’all interact with the audience through shared experiences?

JS: I have never felt as connected to an audience as I had during this play, Topdog/Underdog. It was something so foreign to me. I believe the fact that I was coming to this play knowing that I had to analyze is for a specific class made me interact much differently than I usually do; however, I still didn’t act out of the ordinary. I came to this play with the rest of my theater class that was assigned and was not expecting to interact with anyone except to watch the play. Even from first arriving, I got so happy to see a familiar face to walk into the auditorium. After sitting by everyone, we began talking before the play and Professor Essin and I engaged in conversation with a couple in front of us about personal matters. This was a type of conversation that is no common at all between a student, professor, and strangers let alone at a play for school together. I felt especially more bonded to everyone that we all met outside of class on a Saturday night in an unfamiliar environment.

CL, laughing: Haha, I remember overhearing that conversation, it was really funny! Before I give my option I have a quick question about your experience. How did the shared experience of theatre impact your social bonding?

JT, strong posture upright: During intermission, I went outside to use the restroom. Before returning to the theatre I sat on a couch where I was joined by another person watching the film. We then began discussing our past theatrical excursions which he told me he had been to hundreds of productions. I had only been to three plays prior to Topdog/Underdog, those being WIcked, Lion King, and a production of Romeo and Juliet. Talking to him about his rich past of theater visits as well as our thoughts on the production we were watching, was one of the best parts of the night. I was not expecting this social interaction but the play gave us several topics to discuss such as poverty, sibling rivalry, and Eddie George’s football career.

CL, laughing: Unlike you guys, I was too tired to initiate any outside conversation. My shared experience with the audience would be through the fact that I had read the play before, so I already had somewhat of a foundation and perspective through which I could view this play differently.

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CL: Why do you guys think the kept the set the same?

JS: This is the first play that I have ever seen that deployed theatrical realism. Unlike other types of theater, realism shows an objective representation of the world as it really is. By removing this 4th wall, the director can use this rhetoric to allow the spectator to view the world from his/her perspective. This play was a prime example of this concept of both influencing the spectators’ perception using realism and the audiences “appetite for objectivity”. By first developing the characters with influences from nature and nature and placing them in a “social laboratory” of the house allowing for genuine interactions, the rhetorical argument is hidden in the objectiveness of the play. The fact that the stage remains the same contributes immensely to this idea of realism and obesity since, in real life, the setting doesn’t constantly change over a short period of time.

JT: I agree, the set being constant was a great way to display theatrical realism. In theory, if we (the audience) were viewing their lives in this theatre, we most likely wouldn’t follow them around everywhere. Having the setting be their house allowed us to see them in a vulnerable space. An aspect of realism that I enjoyed in the play were the parts when the characters walked onto the set when the other character was not there. Those parts of the play were where we got to see the true joy or agony of the character because true emotion was being shown given “no one was watching”.

JS: Going off that, I think it’s important to realize that the director encoded this play in an objective manner so we can really decode it and understand the argument from an unbiased point of view. This spectatorship is unfiltered since the argument is laid out for us to grasp due to the play’s theatrical realism.

JT: I think it’s worth examining and analyzing their relationship and why it ultimately didn’t work out. What do you guys think?

JT: I believe their relationship did not work because of Booth’s aspiration to always one-up his brother. In healthy sibling relationships, each person aims to uplift the person with them and help them through their struggles. It seemed that Lincoln was the only sibling who was interested in helping the other improve his lifestyle. This was evident when he was willing to move out if Grace was going to move in, and his suggestion that Booth should get a real job to support his soon to be family. On the flips side, throughout the production Booth continuously eluded to the fact that he had slept with Lincoln’s ex, which was petty given that their breakup contributed to Lincoln’s depression and mental health issues. Another source of tension was the fact that Lincoln was so good at the card game. It hurt Booth to his core. Lincoln wasn’t able to cater to Booth’s insecurities forever. Booth thought he was asking for Lincoln’s guidance with the card tricks, he wanted to believe that he was better than Lincoln. Lincoln’s inability to deal with Booth’s loud and dramatic rants is what led him to eventually take advantage of Booth, which led to the demise of Lincoln.

CL: I agree with that Joe. Growing up, my younger sister and I also fought over a numerous amount of things. As we grew older, we realized that a win for one is a one for the both of us and thus, we formed a more mutually beneficial relationship that encouraged growth, compassion, and empathy. The biggest fault in the relationship between Lincoln and Booth was that although Lincoln always sought out what was in Booth’s best interest, Booth himself did not return the favor. Booth viewed their relationship as a constant back and forth grappling of power and at any time when he saw himself as the underdog, so to speak, he became enraged and did anything in his power to reverse this power dynamic.

CL: Jake, I know that you mentioned to me before our discussion that you had a brother. How does this production impact your previous notions about sibling rivalry?

JS, laughing: Funny enough, my brother was in fact in town during this play and I brought him to it unaware of the plot. Growing up, my brother and I committed for everything when it comes to my parents and getting ahead. As the older brother though, I usually was victorious while my brother grew jealous of my achievement. He internalized his inferiority resulting from his lack of skill, rather than a difference of skills or age differential. Therefore, my brother became the underdog and I the topdog, similar to this play. While I sat next to him watching the brothers of Lincoln and Booth, I couldn’t help but imagine the two of us fighting at the dinner table for the place to sit or who gets to choose the activity for the day. In the plan, the siblings had a very unique relationship that was not rooted in honestly; this is very unlike my real relationship with Zach. Although we fight often, he and I are very truthful and this builds a very strong foundation for our interactions.

JT, laughing: Having a twin sister I know a thing or two about sibling rivalry. My sister and I are extremely competitive so we used to get into fights about everything when we were younger. But as we matured, we realized that we are on the same team and if I’m doing well, she is too and vice versa. Lincoln and Booth’s relationship was normal in the sense that they had some type of compassion towards each other but Booth did things to Lincoln that was totally out of line. Their relationship eventually morphed into who can appear as the strongest and most well off even though they were both in an impoverished state of living.

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JT: How did you guys interpret the title and what do you think that it meant?

CL: I interpreted the title as the way in which Booth viewed his and Lincoln’s relationship. Instead of having one where both brothers could be on the same level, Booth saw two roles. One on the top and the other, which he so feared, on the bottom.

JS, confused tone: My first impression of the title was confusion. I didn’t know why the title had two names and really didn’t think about what the names represented. Now, after watching the play, I believe I have a strong understanding of what Topdog/Underdog, at least the title, represents. The title mirrors the rivalry between the two main characters, Lincoln and Booth. The title has both characters “titles” in terms of being a top or underdog. The fact that both names are in the title reveals the equal roles that both people have in the play while stressing their competition and division (just like the “/” sign in the title”).

JT: Before viewing Topdog/Underdog I thought the title was weird given I had never heard of a play with the title being two antonyms. After viewing the production, I believe the title represents the play perfectly. Lincoln and Booth throughout the play have moments where one is the topdog and the other is the underdog. It is up to the audience to choose who is the topdog or underdog at the end of the play.

JT: How do you guys think the play demonstrates the concept of chance/fate?

JS, shrugging shoulders: Was it just a coincidence that the characters were named Lincoln and Booth? What are the odds that the character named Booth would murder Lincoln? Clearly, these two ideas were purposefully written into the play. Therefore, it was fate that at the end of the play that one brother would murder the other.

JT: The play had an aspect of fate that I’m sure everyone felt. Towards the middle and end of the play I began to question if Booth was mentally stable enough to be carrying a gun, and questioned why he had one in the first place. As tension grew between the brothers, and with the irony of their names being Lincoln and Booth, I was certain that eventually, Lincoln’s life may be coming to an end at Booth’s hands. Though everyone was expecting the gunshot, no one anticipated how loud it would be.

CL, nodding: I totally agree. Fate was completely intertwined in all aspects of the play. From the names given at the start of the two characters lives to the ultimate death of Lincoln. It seemed that from the get-go, fate, or better described as upbringing, inherent disposition, and the current state of life, was wrought in the unfortunate conclusion of the two brothers relationship.

CL: I think that deception played a big role as well. How did you guys see it as a theme throughout the play?

JS: Just as in real life, Booth here created a facade for his behavior. The act of deception is a central theme in the play in which patterns have proven to disarm and take advantage of people, just like when the characters “throw the cards.” This process is clearly practiced by their routine as card dealers since they try and steal the attention of the play so they can win the money. This movement of a spotlight is not only in regards to gambling. Booth is oblivious to Lincoln’s deception when Lincoln admits that he doesn’t want to throw card anymore, which he in fact does. Moreso, when the brothers play card initially, Lincoln lets Booth win which builds a false sense of confidence in his own skill. Ego affected his decision-making and his own virtuosity trumped everything he previously knew about perception.

JT: Deception was a huge part of especially Booth’s life. He wanted to deceive his brother into believing he had an amazing relationship with this woman, who we eventually find out he actually killed. We also see him steal clothing from a store. It was interesting that not only did he steal clothing, but he stole nice clothes! Though the colors of the suits he stole may have been a bit outrageous, the act of him stealing suits was so he could appear to be a person who had money and could afford expensive things.

CL: I definitely saw that as well. Everything Booth did was to convince his older brother Lincoln that he had achieved success whether it had to do with his financial state, his ability to find a vocation, or his relationship. Everything he said to Lincoln was done in a way to garner respect, which Lincoln gave, but just not enough and not at the direst moments.

JS: How do guys think the characters fit into conventional masculinity and displays of violence?

JT: Booth and Lincoln fit into conventional masculinity well. Each character talked about their past sexual experiences as if it made them more of a man. Booth at times during the play would pull out some magazines of nude women in which he would view before going to sleep. The play depicted poverty very well because it showed every aspect of what impoverished people go through; financial struggles, drug or alcohol vices, and violence. Every night before going to sleep Lincoln would drink a glass of whiskey. This was his way of dealing with the pressure of being in poverty. The mental rollercoaster of poverty eventually led Booth to shoot his own brother. Violence is, unfortunately, a major part of impoverished peoples lives.

JS: These characters demonstrated conventional masculinity perfectly as they wanted to prove themselves to other men, specifically the other brother, that he was superior. Sexually, they fought over who had more girls to have sex with and Booth even lied about having sex with a girl only to appear “cool” to his brother. This perpetuates the cycle of objectification of a women’s sexuality as the female was only thought of as a sex machine, not a real person. When it comes to violence, Booth literally shot Lincoln in the play and they were very hostile to each other throughout the entire play. This is significant since people in poverty, like the two characters here, typically have increased rates of violence. This can be analyzed in the context of gang violence as the two characters participate in an illegal act of throwing cards and it ultimately ends in people getting hurt, both physically, emotionally, and financially.

CL: I also saw these two characters fit into the molds of conventional masculinity and displays of violence. Both brothers, but primarily Booth used his experiences with women to propel him to the state of Topdog, even going as far as using Lincoln’s ex-wife in the same manner. The violence was omnipresent; Booth’s handgun, the death of Lincoln’s buddy while throwing cards, and ultimately Lincoln’s death.

JT: Did the story told by the production remind y’all of other stories you’ve encountered in other forms like novels, movies, tv, etc?

JS: Honestly, no. I have never seen anything like this that only involve 2 realistic characters. After I say that now, it weird that I cannot connect it with anything else I’ve encountered. I guess it reminds me of stories in which the younger brother is clearly jealous of the older brother, which I have definitely seen, but I don’t remember the name of the movie. Actually, the way Loki is jealous of Thor reminds me of Booth’s jealousy of Lincoln.

CL: I thought the story was somewhat reminiscent of The Lion King and the relationship between Scar and Mufasa, where one brother is fueled by rage and jealousy to displace the power that the other had.

CL: How do you guys think the community is being served by the telling of this story?

JS: Simply put, the community of Nashville is being incredibly served by the telling of this specifics story. As a city that is growing exponentially and has a multitude of possibilities that resides a prestigious institution that is growing just as fast as the city, this story has many lessons to think about and analyze. For instance, the idea of masculinity and displays of violence, along with deception, change versus fate in life, and sibling rivalry are incredibly relevant in American society and must be studied more in Nashville as a city that is rapidly developing. People who watch the story will become more aware of the events going on in Nashville that are much less spoken about and the community will have the ability to act in ways that further the development of Nashville positively.

CL: I view this story as a means to humanize the struggles that people face in impoverished conditions. Many times from an outsider perspective it is easy to sympathize with the tribulations experienced by these individuals, but to actually empathize is nearly impossible because most of the time there is not a shared experience that exists between the two parties. This story helps viewers step into the shoes of two individuals who have faced the hardships created by poverty and allows them to experience a piece of their lives firsthand.

JT: I believe the community is being served by the telling of this story because the theater is acting as a bridge connecting impoverished people with the middle to upper class. This is the case because people who go to theater events are usually not in low socioeconomic standing. The theater telling a story of two impoverished men is a great way to create empathy towards people who may be less fortunate without the theater audience actually having to experience that lifestyle for themselves.

JT: Which character did you guys empathize with the most?

Eddie George (Lincoln) performs in “Topdog/Underdog” on February 15th, 2019.

Eddie George (Lincoln) performs in “Topdog/Underdog” on February 15th, 2019.

JS: Although I really don’t empathize with either character as much as I hoped, since we live incredibly different lives, I empathize with Lincoln the most because I am the oldest brother in our family so I believe that my brother looks up to me, similar to the way Booth does to Lincoln. Lincoln is very mature as he quite something that he feels is wrong; however, he ultimately ends up back doing the very thing he swore off. Personally, I have sworn off bad habits and some come back, like Lincoln, but most stay away permanently.

JT: Between Lincoln and Booth I definitely empathized with Lincoln the most. Lincoln tried to make an honest living by being a white-faced Abraham Lincoln but he faced the possibility of unemployment the whole production. Lincoln was easiest to empathize with because he was providing for himself and his brother though he didn’t necessarily have to. It was clear that Lincoln had a great heart. It was clear Lincoln wanted to progress in his life, which is why he wanted to stay away from doing the three card game. Seeing Lincoln battle the temptation of returning to one of his vices is something almost everyone can relate to.

CL: It was hard for me to empathize with either character, but if I had to choose, I would also pick Lincoln. Similarly to Jake, I filled the older brother role growing up and faced some of the same difficulties that Lincoln faced. For example, it is hard to walk the line between teaching your younger sibling a skill while helping them improve and seeming patronizing because of your greater ability.

JS: I think that covers everything. Do you guys think we should discuss any other parts?

JT: Nope, I think we got it all.

CL: I agree, great work guys!

 


9 Comments on “TOPDOG/UNDERDOG by Christopher Lei, Jake Silver, and Joseph Toye”

One thing I was interested in from this analysis was how the authors applied this play to their lives and families. Reading this conversation made me think about the relationship I have with my younger sister. Our relationship has changed similarly to the way Jake and Joseph’s relationships have with their siblings: we thought of each other as rivals when we were younger but now have each others’ backs in every aspect of life. We began to support each other as we matured and grew older. I believe it is important to acknowledge that Booth and Lincoln were thrusted into adulthood when their parents left them at a young age. They did not have the time that most of us had to learn and grow into mature and respectful adults – they had to take on responsibilities typically performed by adults while they were still children. The competitive and immature relationship they display as adults in the play is the same relationship they had when their parents abandoned them.

David Ward on March 15th, 2019 at 2:36 pm

I found it interesting that Christopher, Jake, and Joseph were able to make connections between their relationships with their siblings and the relationship between Lincoln and Booth in this play. As I was watching this play, I too made connections to my relationship with my older brother. Although I do not necessarily empathize and agree with Booth’s extreme actions, I can relate to the way he was the younger sibling and wanted to prove himself/ one-up Lincoln. Growing up, my older brother was the typical “perfect child”, so I found myself resenting him and wanting to beat him in everything, ultimately leading to us fighting and not getting along often. However, as we grew older, I started to look up to my brother more and would learn from what he was doing to be successful. I also agree with them about deception being a major theme in this play, one that I find particularly relevant to Vanderbilt students. The way Booth would try to come off as though he had everything put together and was doing well to impress his older brother is similar to the way Vanderbilt students seem as though they are doing well academically, socially, financially and in every other aspect of their lives. In reality, everyone has their struggles just like Booth and Lincoln did, and I find it important that this play highlights those struggles honestly and shows what bad things can happen when you become consumed in trying to prove yourself to others.

Virginia Green on March 17th, 2019 at 8:34 pm

I agree that the consistent scene, set in their home, was very powerful in reinforcing the character’s personalities and dialogues, as well as providing an intimate view into the character’s lives. Also, as we talked about with Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, the play being set in a bar was very significant because a bar is where people go to relax and engage in more candid conversations, just like in a home where people are most vulnerable. Jake also made a great point that keeping the set consistent throughout the play contributed to the apparent style of theatrical realism. A home is one physical space that everyone in the audience can relate to.
I also related greatly to the ongoing theme of sibling rivalry between Booth and Lincoln, as well as Jake and Joseph’s own experiences with sibling rivalries. My older sister and I constantly fought growing up because we both viewed each other as the topdog and ourselves as the underdog, creating constant competition between us. Even if an audience member never experienced sibling rivalry, I definitely think that everyone can relate to power struggles between two people whether it be between friends, coworkers, etc.
Christopher, Jake, and Joseph covered everything about the “why now?” question for this production. Theatrical realism serves to act as a window into another world and portraying a story of toxic masculinity, the effects of socioeconomic status, and mental health humanizes each of these struggles and communicates them in a very impactful way through the development of empathy for each character.

Abigail Bush on March 17th, 2019 at 9:38 pm

Coming out of this play, I thought a lot about the plot of the story, the resulting climax, and the implications of this performance to the public. However, when beginning to read this discussion, I realized that I missed out on a large portion of the performance, the stage. I didn’t think much of it during the performance however Toye gives insight that Booth and Lincoln’s home as the stage gave a much more intimate and personal look into their stories. This in a way gave way to showing the more vulnerable sides of the character’s facades. Because of this setting, we are able to see the brotherly connection between the two which results in mutual protection and support as well as simultaneous breakdown of the characters. Also mentioned in the discussion, the lack of any other characters or settings such as the Lincoln’s workplace or Grace gave fuller attention to the relationship between the two brothers. This gave me insight into essentially why the playwright and the stage director chose such limited visuals and environment. I also enjoyed the discussion of Eddie George’s involvement with the performance as it was also a topic of curiosity for many. There are many stories of professional athletes starting business, charities, or side hobbies, however I have never thought that a Heisman trophy winner would be acting on stage at the TPAC. I personally thought that the casting of George for the role of Lincoln was very impactful as he embodied the physicality of a tough big brother. Lastly, I found the discussion about the title very interesting. Lei mentions how it the title essentially forces the label of “Topdog” and “Underdog” onto one of the brothers. Throughout the play, it seems as though the labels switch back and forth between the brothers. Although Booth is younger, there seems to be times when he seems to be the smarter and more skillful brother, while other times Lincoln proves to be wiser one. From my own experience I feel as if the ending gives a clear sign of who is the true “Topdog.” Although Booth is seen to have shot his brother, he eventually breaks down in fear of his actions, ending the play while showing his most vulnerable side yet. This seems to point in the direction of Lincoln being the true “Topdog”, with Booth only trying to act as if he was. Another idea would be that the “Topdog” is function of society and the “Underdog” is anyone who is stuck in it on the bottom rung of society. This would hint that the brothers had the chance to either become “Topdogs” through effort or crumble and become the “Underdogs.” The “/” in the title indicates the uncertainty at the beginning of the play, and at the end, the audience knows who is the clear winner. Overall, there were many interesting questions that formulate some thought-provoking conversation. It made me re-question some of my thoughts and experiences of the play. Great job and analysis!

Eric Cho on March 18th, 2019 at 12:25 am

This performance was my first one of its sort. The intimate feel, as the analysis mentioned, added an aspect to being an audience member that I had not previously felt. It definitely helped build more of a real connection between audience members. Seeing a play like this was something that it was clear each audience member was interested in being there, had done prior research, or was intrigued by the play. It ensured that everyone there was actually fascinated by the play, looking to understand what was going on and dig deeper into each scene and the meaning behind everything. With such a small set and intimate vibe, I also began thinking about how each item on the stage had a deeper meaning as the play went on, similar to Joseph. As time went on, I thought more and more about why the producers of this play chose each aspect they chose. One thing that really stood out to me about this analysis was the connection each person made to their own personal lives. I agree that this play left me pondering my own relationships with my siblings. I could not really empathize with the play on that sort of level, as my siblings are way younger than me and we have never had any sort of competition between us. They are four and ten, so our relationship dynamic has always been completely different than the competitive, resentful one of Lincoln and Booth. It certainly got me thinking about what life would have been like if I would have felt like I had to compete with my sibling for everything. I genuinely could not imagine it. As the analysis mentioned, the removal of the 4th wall contributed greatly to my experience as an audience member. The stage constantly being set as their home really provided that intimate experience. It reminded me that I am seeing the characters in their raw form, in their most comfortable place. It was extremely relatable, as many can probably agree that they act different in the privacy of their home as opposed to in public. It provided that key necessary for theatrical realism, and I think that fact that it left everyone thinking about their own lives and connections to the play attests to that. It gave me that sense of ephemerality, like I knew that I was not going to be able to go back in time and view any of the things I was seeing again, so I wanted to ensure I took in as much as I could. Seeing the way Booth and Lincoln’s relationship ended was not unexpected, as the names gave insight into what would happen, with some dark humor. It still was shocking, though. For a brother to kill a brother. I did not take that lightly. I cannot see any disagreement between me and my siblings going that far. That is where the disconnect was for me. The play did a great job of showing how life in poverty is. There are issues of toxic masculinity and feeling like you have to be the man and come out on top of everyone. The set showing their home also added to that. It was clear they were impoverished, that just added another sense and detail to the experience. I think that many plays show a different side of poverty, so for this one to show one that affects so many people today was a very interesting thing to see.

Courtney Smith on March 18th, 2019 at 6:37 am

The authors of this analysis put a lot of consideration into the set. All of the action occurred in the brothers’ apartment, a place which is traditionally vulnerable and honest. However, the Booth was only honest and vulnerable when his brother wasn’t home or was asleep. I was particularly struck by the allusions to playing cards in the set. The walls were made to look like a house of cards, about to come crashing down at any moment. Even the wallpaper was reminiscent of the patterns on the backs of playing cards. Around the edge of the deck, there were small pieces of wood leaning against each other in a triangle pattern. This furthered the idea that the apartment was an unstable house of cards. The brother’s lives could come crashing down at any moment. They were living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to find meaning in their lives. Booth’s crisis at the end was inevitable. Booth could not keep trying to walk the line between his selfishness and maintaining a relationship with his brother forever.

Gabrielle Blackburn on March 18th, 2019 at 9:35 am

I personally really enjoy plays that allow me, as an audience member, to take a glimpse into the characters’ lives because it makes me forget that I am watching a theatrical performance. It subconsciously tells me that I should live in the moment and just observe what’s in front of me: the production and the many elements that comprise it. Theatrical realism definitely helped enhance this show as I was able to think about my life and how some of the lessons from the show were applicable to me. By the play taking place at their house, audience members were able to see the characters in a vulnerable state and really experience the raw emotion from the words that the actors recited. Echoing what everyone has previously said about siblings, my little brother and I too fought a lot growing up. As we grew older, we inherently learned we truly are “our brother’s keeper” and despite the current circumstances, we owe it to each other to always be on the lookout for each other and have our best interests at heart. Reiterating what David said, Booth and Lincoln lacked this logic. They did not think this way, but honestly, cannot be faulted as the circumstances of the childhood did not allow them to.

Jordan Lee on March 18th, 2019 at 9:49 am

I think you all did an excellent job really discussing some key factors of this play. Going into this play with no prior knowledge of the work, the simplicity of the set also surprised me. It’s safe to say I was a little underwhelmed. As the play went on, however, I realized the intentionality behind this simplicity as it became more obvious that it was the goal of the production team to produce a work of theatrical realism. Beyond the intimacy of the one-bedroom set, the lack of props, like the crooked light, was reflective of the brothers’ poverty. Surprisingly, this play really opened my eyes to the ways in which we are oblivious to sibling rivalries. After watching this play, I initially thought that my sibling and I were immune to this kind of competition, but as I read your analysis, I began to recall the many ways in which I competed with my three other siblings. What resonated with me the most about this play was the ways in which Booth and Lincoln differently internalized the task of escaping poverty. While Booth was more focused on the personal gain he would acquire, Lincoln seemed to be more concerned with both of their general wellbeing. Both the name of the play and the character development served as evidence to the fact that two people, even siblings, can live relatively similar lives and have completely different outlooks on them.

Camille Hurt on March 18th, 2019 at 11:19 pm

With the groups opening statements about how the stage was set up and how they thought the stage was going to be different because of their expectations, i couldn’t agree more. With the expectations that came naturally to my mind because of the play being at TPAC, i just didn’t expect the stage to feel so small. But it was a nice change in my opinion and fit the stage really well. I was also very impressed with Eddie George and his acting abilities. I thought he did a great job and it just catches me by surprise because he was a former professional athlete and that’s not a very common combination, athletics and acting. It just amazes me i guess because i’m not talented in that area and i know a lot of athletes aren’t talented in acting too. The overall story of Topdog/Underdog has a lot of meaning behind it in my eyes. I feel like audiences from a poorer background could really connect with the story. They may have not gone through something that ends the way this story did, but i’m sure they can relate when it comes to the brothers trying to make money, trying to make budgets, arguing over the money, etc. I loved the play overall and i would definitely recommend it to others.

Steven Raby on March 29th, 2019 at 11:22 am

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