“Topdog/Underdog” tells on itself before the curtain rises in the first scene. House lights fade to the song “Grinding All My Life” by Nipsey Hussle. In 2019, Hussle — a Crenshaw-born, community-oriented rapper and entrepreneur — was gunned down outside his clothing store in South LA. His murderer? A member of the same gang Hussle formerly ran with. In other words, a brother. When we enter the story within “Topdog/Underdog,” Booth, the younger of the two siblings central to the text, sloppily practices a three-card-monte scam in his bedroom. Booth is a little hectic with his hands (a recurring theme) but takes a measured approach to the ritual: throwing the playing cards, running from pretend police and even threatening an invisible “mark” (scam victim) not to touch his cards — as he has heard his older brother do several times. That older brother is Lincoln (“Link”), who enters the room abruptly dressed as his namesake: Abraham Lincoln. The top hat and long coat are more customary and less cosplay since Link is employed as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator at a local arcade. Patrons pay to shoot this Black man in whiteface. He gets paid to die.
Review: In ‘Topdog/Underdog,’ nothing is holier than the hustle
"Topdog/Underdog" tells on itself before the curtain rises in the first scene. House lights fade to the song "Grinding All My Life" by Nipsey Hussle.