Two against the world

Two against the world
Through Sunday, March 14 at Mad Cow Theatre, 105 S. Magnolia Ave.

Two African-American brothers, Lincoln and Booth, share a small, squalid apartment with no bathroom or running water. Booth, the younger sibling, is unemployed and spends his days pining for an ex-girlfriend when he is not out shoplifting for whatever he may need at the time — clothes, cheap booze, it doesn't matter. "Boosting" is his art form. His hobby is "throwing cards." It's a vain attempt to emulate his older brother who, at one time, was a master three-card monte scam artist, but Linc has long since given up the game. At present, Linc is contentedly scraping by as an Abraham Lincoln—impersonator in a carnival arcade, where people pay to "assassinate" him with fake pistols. It's the most absurd occupation in the world, especially for a black man, but at least it's "a job with benefits."

In Topdog/Underdog, Suzan-Lori Parks' 2002 Pulitzer Prize—winning play, the fraternal pair find themselves shackled together in an uneasy alliance of dashed hopes and unfulfilled ambitions. They alternately reminisce, argue, play-act, commiserate, fight and make up, all the while trying to navigate their way toward an uncertain future by way of their fractured past. On their own since they were teenagers, it's clear that Lincoln and Booth are going nowhere. Still, they desperately hold on to one another, supporting each other's dreams in a manner that only brothers can. Director Be Boyd has staged a compelling and ferocious version of the drama, starring two University of Central Florida students, A.C. Sanford (Lincoln) and David Tate (Booth). Both actors give deeply felt and impressively moving performances, tearing into Parks' expletive-laden script with youthful abandon coupled with a mature understanding of the inner lives of these two sympathetic losers.

The result is a gritty, searing portrayal of two bruised souls sinking much faster than either of them can swim. Production designer Kent Vanderberg adds to the chaotic and raw-nerved atmosphere with a series of disjointed video projections flashed onto the back wall of the stage between scenes. Topdog/Underdog is not a pretty sight — in this game of two against the world, the world will win — but it's powerful theater.

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