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Arts and Entertainment

MSU Theatre and Dance Studio Series Presents Pulitzer Prize Winning Play 'Topdog Underdog'

(Cover image courtesy Dramatists Play Service)

The MSU Theatre and Dance Department Studio Series provides two department-supported production opportunities each school year. Studio Series projects may address a wide range of styles. Students from all Theatre and Dance degree areas, staff or faculty may apply. All student-led projects require a mentor, and students must solicit a written agreement of support from the mentor as part of the application process. The Theatre and Dance Department will provide rehearsal and performance space, minimal technical support, and will pay all royalty fees. The Studio Series is a competitive opportunity to explore work that may reside outside of departmental programming. 

The play "Topdog/Underdog" by Suzan-Lori Parks,winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is the spring Studio Series offering. Performances will be at 2:30pm and 7:30pm Friday May 6 and 2:30pm Sunday the 8th in the Craig Hall Balcony Theatre.  Admission is free, and there are no tickets. But remember, seating in the Balcony Theatre is limited.

Director Erika Flowers says she and her actors, Darian Bankston and Dejuan Boyd, "were wanting to produce Topdog Underdog for a while.  For about a year we've been looking at the script and talking about it. And one of my actors decided, 'Well, let's put it in for the Studio Series and see if we can get it produced.  So it got accepted."

The two-character drama centers on brothers Lincoln and Booth, who live together in a cramped boarding house apartment--a real dump.  "There's no running water, they have to go down the hall if they need to use the restroom," adds director Erika Flowers. Lincoln, the best Three-Card Monte hustler the streets had ever seen, has sworn off the cards forever. On the flip-side, younger brother Booth wants to try his luck at being a card shark. Says Erika, "that's the main conflict.  There are plenty of other things that they go through."

Suzan-Lori Parks "is such a talented playwright, and she layers so many things into this show," says Erika Flowers. It provides a raw and intimate look at issues such as "the search for love and power; feelings of abandonment; brother love but also sibling rivalry; and the feeling of not having upward mobility or a way to get a better life for yourself." Other issues dealt with in the play are race, masculinity, pride, and above all, the secret lies of two African-American brothers struggling to survive.  It's described as a passionate, hilarious, and heart-wrenching opportunity to step into another person's shoes, if only for a moment. "It's definitely a reflection of life," adds Erika. "And life has happy moments, it has sad moments, it has humor, and that's definitely seen in this show. There are times where you'll be laughing because it's silly, laughing because it might be a little crass"--and perhaps laughing because it's uncomfortable.