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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The divisive Pulitzer Prize winner
Since there are a lot of negative reviews here, I thought I'd throw in my two cents. I just got around to reading the play, which I was sad to have missed on Broadway. But if you're thinking of reading it this late in the game, you probably did too. I recommend it.
The topdog is older brother Lincoln, a card hustler who quit the streets for a legit job as a...
Published on March 10, 2004 by J. Ott

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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lessons re-learned.
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...
Published on October 20, 2003 by Jessica Ferguson


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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The divisive Pulitzer Prize winner, March 10, 2004
By 
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
Since there are a lot of negative reviews here, I thought I'd throw in my two cents. I just got around to reading the play, which I was sad to have missed on Broadway. But if you're thinking of reading it this late in the game, you probably did too. I recommend it.
The topdog is older brother Lincoln, a card hustler who quit the streets for a legit job as a Lincoln impersonator. His (underdog) brother is Booth, a petty thief with ambitions to become as good at three card monte as his older bro. What plays out between the brothers is classic stage drama, tiny eruptions of sublimated hatred leading to one big volcanic moment.
If you choose to read them not as characters, but as symbols of African-American manhood, or American history or whatever -- and this is tempting to do when dealing with Parks -- then the play probably won't pack the visceral wallop that it intends. As someone who has studied playwriting, I find it a very clean, well-structured story, other than some moments of awkward exposition. Parks' dialogue is hip and muscular, and I would have loved to see it performed by the likes of Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def. It's stylized and you either like it or you don't.
If you haven't read or seen any Parks, I recommend giving this one a try. Clearly it isn't everyone's style, but it deserves respect for craftsmanship if nothing else. Sustaining a two character play ain't easy. 4/5 stars.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Theater, March 15, 2004
By 
carsondyle "carsondyle" (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
Saw this play last night at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Yes, it's obvious where the story was going. (Parks didn't choose the character name's by accident.) What's impressive was that you could feel the audience willing the action not to happen. I'm sorry, but that's great theater. I wanted to savor the language some more, so I logged on to Amazon to purchase a copy. I was shocked when I read the customer reviews. I couldn't disagree more with the naysayers. Obviously, a person's reaction to art is subjective, but three points must be made: Theater is meant to be seen, not read. From minute one, the audience was with this play. Booth's pathetic attempts at practicing Three Card Monte were hilarious. Then to later witness Lincoln's smooth as silk moves told you all you needed to know about these brothers. And I don't use the word "brothers" in the colloquial sense -- which brings me to point number two. These are two black men, not all black men. Is Hamlet about all Danish people? (I'm not saying "Topdog" is Shakespeare, merely illustrating a point.) Unfortunately, since there are so few plays by African Americans that get mainstream attention, the impulse it to attach a lot more meaning than the playwrights perhaps intended. My third point is that many people seem to feel that if dialogue isn't written in the Queen's English, it's somehow not artful. Parks did an amazing job. She took two marginalized human beings and showed that there is poetry in their lives. Perhaps that's what's behind some of the negative reactions. These are people you avoid in real life. Why would you want to spend two hours in a theater listening to what they have to say? That being said, anyone with a sibling can relate to this play. It'll make you think twice the next time you feel the need to elevate yourself at their expense. Topdog is what theater should be -- exciting, provocative, funny, tragic. Yes, it deserved the Pulitzer.
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45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brave, Original Work For The Stage, July 8, 2002
By 
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
In a recent interview, Suzan-Lori Parks said she wrote plays when characters tugged on her sleeve and told her they wanted her to write for them. She went on to say that Topdog/Underdog, which had just been awarded the Pulitzer for drama, came to her as a "gift" in three days of work.
After reading this play, I must agree that it's a product of Divine inspiration. Topdog/Underdog gives voice to two brothers, Lincoln and Booth, as they posture and play and explore the dynamics of being the younger and the older, the experienced and the eager, the resigned and the motivated.
It's a stunning meditation on race and family and class ... made all the more stunning as it pours forth from two down-and-out, plain-spoken, African-American men, characters Parks herself has been criticized for writing about.
What these critics have failed to realize is that by giving voice to these marginalized, unsympathetic characters, she has tapped into the darker, less acceptable side in each of us.
It's a beautifully crafted work that deserves a far greater audience.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lessons re-learned., October 20, 2003
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
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 past, the fact is these two men could easily exist in modern day society, and probably do. Parks adds a large dose of irony to their lives: their names, their family, their occupations (or lack of), their girlfriends (or lack of), that gives the play a dark comedy feel.
Beyond the immediate action, Parks has managed to take the reader further, creating a symbolic and meaningful statement in a worldly sense. It is interesting that because this play is written by a black woman it is considered to be a statement on black society. The work, when read and reread, takes on multifaceted meanings in the world of the reader, of any color, and while the surface level of introspection seems to hint at the stereotypical perpetuation of black men making bad choices and keeping themselves in the fringes of society, these two "brothers" truly represent "everyman," who battle with each other in a continued "sibling rivalry," attempting to distance themselves from their past, maintain control over their future and to control their own and each other's lives. Literature, as reflection of life, has shown us the error of our ways time and time again and Parks reminds us that human nature is inescapable and that we are our worst enemy.
(Note: This review is based on reading the play. I have not seen the play performed)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Shocked at the Reviews on Here, July 28, 2010
By 
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
I'm generally not a fan of Pulitzer Prize drama because it is often sentimental and old-fashioned, but Parks' play, close to 10 years later, is still forward looking and brilliant. Reading over some of the reviews below, my impression is that these readers know very little of dramatic reading, the African American urban experience, contemporary theater (which does not include commercial theater like Broadway).

If you want to read a masterful play written with compelling and poetic language that engages American themes of repression, oppression, brotherhood (in many senses of the word), family relationships, parentage, economy, race relations and a few more themes, than you will need to read this play over and over. I've taught this text to a variety of groups in college, and they all have a lot to say about the various themes. If you are able to read plays beyond the text on the page and imagine the set and movement of the characters as in motion, this play is even more compelling because Parks has a great sense of theatricality that is often lacking in plays of the past 20 years.

A powerful, disturbing and brilliant piece of melodramatic theater making. I hope you will read this play and be disturbed by it.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking. Not To Be Missed, June 8, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
I'll be brief. This play reads well on the page ... it is intense and in-your-face daring. On stage (done well, as I recently saw it the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) it is breathtaking. Amazing. Unique. Startling. Touching. Unexpectedly real & funny. It won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize and it is obvious why. It is an "African American play" but these brothers could be any ethnicity and it would still pack the same punch. In other words: Don't let reviews talking about "stereotypes" disuade you from experiencing this amazing work for yourself.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Painful to watch, August 29, 2003
By 
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
I recently saw this in New York. And quite frnkly i don't see what the big deal is about. I could have gone down to Nostrum in Brooklyn and picked up better more intelligent dialouge. Is this what our society considers literarture? As an African american woman I feel ill to see trash such as this portraying African american men in such a stereotypical light (from an african american writer no less.) Suzan Lori Parks is no more than an uncle tom who panders to the predominantly white theatre patron. I personally would like to see more plays about black men in positions of power and responsibility not the same old junk that america has pidgeon holed them into as drunken lazy womanizing thugs.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gritty Angry Boy Drama, August 3, 2004
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This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
Parks' play is a well crafted drama about two brothers' lives smoothly built around their relationship with 3-card monte. She does a strong job of handling the darker aspects of sibling rivalry, poverty, and family. I mostly enjoyed Topdog/Underdog for its raw toughness and the way the two-character structure brought out the inner workings and different demons of the two brothers. While not the greatest play ever, it is a good, solid dramatic work and definitely worth reading.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW, April 13, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
Although I would highly recommend seeing this show in production (on Broadway now), just reading the play is enough to take anyone on a serious roller-coaster ride. Humorous and tragic, this play just knocked me out. I had already read two others by Ms. Parks (In the Blood and Venus), but this one has more kick, more oomph and requires you to invest yourself in the lives of Lincoln and Booth.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, April 26, 2013
This review is from: Topdog/Underdog (Paperback)
I read this play for an African American Prose class during my undergraduate years. The brothers are very true to life and relatable. I'm not African American, but if haven't taken that class I would probably just see this play in the same way the people who gave negative reviews have. I've noticed the people who gave this play negative reviews are people who privilege white Euro/American "standards" of prose and literature. This play IS a work of art but not according to the standards they've put it under. There are a lot of important thematic issues ripe for analysis in this play.
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Topdog/Underdog - Acting Edition
Topdog/Underdog - Acting Edition by Suzan-Lori Parks (Paperback - January 1, 2004)
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