Why the Creators of Broadway’s ‘Topdog/Underdog’ Think the Play Has a Superpower

How is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play like a Marvel superhero? Ask Suzan-Lori Parks, the acclaimed writer whose 2001 outing “Topdog/Underdog” was her first show to arrive on Broadway after she’d spent years turning heads downtown with smaller-scale work.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

“Each of my plays has a different superpower, and so ‘Topdog/Underdog’ was like — suddenly an arch appeared,” Parks said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. “Like a portal, that’s what it is. I love ‘Doctor Strange.’ The first ‘Doctor Strange’ movie, when he’s making those portals! ‘Topdog’ opened a whole portal for me and I stepped through it and then I was on a totally different landscape. After all that time I had spent making those spells and charms in the Off Off Broadway theater, I was now ready to sing the song in a way that was even more powerful. … Suddenly it could be heard in a different way.”

The story of the tight, rivalrous bond between two brothers, “Topdog/Underdog” is back on Broadway this season in a new production starring Corey Hawkins (“In the Heights”) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (“Watchmen”). It’s directed by Kenny Leon, who is also directing an upcoming production of Adrienne Kennedy’s “Ohio State Murders” this fall. Appearing with Parks on Stagecraft, Leon said he considers both those projects, plus other plays now running on Broadway, as works that are all in conversation.

“All these plays will talk to each other,” he said. “You can see ‘Topdog’ on 45th Street and then go to 48th and see ‘Ohio State Murders’ and then go see ‘The Piano Lesson’ on 47th and then go see ‘Death of a Salesman‘ on 44th. And then you can go and see Stoppard’s work and see all of the stories. That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Parks added that artists, like plays, also have superpowers — and argued against squandering those gifts.

“These works that we’re [making] are encouraging people to be human and to continue to create civilization, which is one of things that we as artists can do,” she said. “It’s our superpower, and we toss it away to just be what they used to call glee men, the ones who entertain only and feed each other sugar and get you to buy shit that we don’t need. Instead of singing the great song.”

To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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