Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Older brother Lincoln (Jason Nious) was once an ace three-card monte street hustler who lived for the thrill of ripping off his marks, but he swore off the game when one of his crew was shot. He now plays Honest Abe (in whiteface and strap-on beard) at an amusement arcade where patrons take turns assassinating him with a cap pistol. Kicked out by his wife and on the verge of losing his job to a wax dummy, Lincoln crashes at the shabby digs of the unemployed Booth (Jamey Maurice Clay), a gifted shoplifter who brags about his doting girlfriend Grace while hounding his big brother to show him the way to three-card riches. Familial love collides with sibling rivalry in this tale of delusion, desperation and displacement.
Both actors are outstanding. Jamey Maurice Clay crackles with energy as the tightly wound and mercurial Booth, bounding about his tiny flat like a caged tiger, and fussing with the tiniest details as he prepares to seal the deal with Grace. (Bonus points for the doily.) Jason Nious conveys the complex shadings of the more subdued Lincoln, accepting life's defeats (including getting paid less than his white predecessor at the arcade) and willing to play the long game, much to the disdain of his impatient sibling. Their card skills and accompanying rap raise street hustle to an art form.
Director Thomas W. Jones II maintains a sharp pace, with impeccable timing that mines the humor in the brothers' rough-and-tumble relationship. Raquel M. Williams' set design bristles with all the details one expects from a dingy urban bedsit with no plumbing and a single boarded-up window.
Sparkling and tragic all at once, Topdog/Underdog is theatre at its best.
Topdog/Underdog runs through February 24, 2024, at Vegas Theatre Company, 1025 S. 1st St., #110, Las Vegas NV. (Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and 7:30 pm $40 general admission. For tickets and information, please visit https://www.theatre.vegas/topdog-underdog.
Lincoln: Jason Nious
Lighting Design: Marcus Randolf