Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Round House Theatre Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Long Way Down and Where the Mountain Meets the Sea

Ro Boddie, seated, and Yao Dogbe
Photo by Martha Schulman Photography
Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, has staged a shattering production of Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning play Topdog/Underdog, brought to life through Jamil Jude's measured direction with gripping performances by Ro Boddie and Yao Dogbe as brothers forced to depend on each other.

The action takes place in the single room where Booth (Dogbe), an aspiring three-card monte dealer, lives and his older brother Lincoln (Boddie) is staying after the breakup of his marriage. Meghan Raham has created an immense amount of detail in this box-like room in a repurposed industrial building, from the large red neon letters outside the windows to the cloud-like colors painted on the soaring ceiling. Clearly, the building as well, as the residents, has seen better days.

The brothers have looked out for themselves and each other since their teens, when their parents left them on their own with some money and no other support. Their names are jokes given them by their father, but Lincoln has taken his to heart: he works in an arcade in whiteface as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, where customers can pay to "shoot him in the head" with toy guns. (He was in the three-card monte grift but got out when it became too dangerous.) Booth, on the other hand, survives by shoplifting and reselling merchandise while trying to perfect his technique as a con artist out to scam the tourists. (Ryan Phillips is credited as "card manipulation consultant.")

Parks' genius is in the way she uses language to build her characters. As Booth, Dogbe is charmingly excitable and optimistic, rattling on about the woman he loves and his plans for the future even as he lives his present life in limbo. Boddie embodies the gravitas of Lincoln, who knows that things don't necessarily work out and is getting worn down.

The design team draws the audience into this constricted space with Booth's single mattress on a bare metal frame, the recliner chair where Lincoln sleeps, and other makeshift pieces of furniture. Xavier Pierce's atmospheric lighting design incorporates candlelight, while Danielle Preston's costumes include aspirational suits in anticipation of Lincoln and Booth's better days (which Booth smuggled out of a store).

Topdog/Underdog runs through June 23, 2024, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-644-1100 or visit

By Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Jamil Jude
Booth: Yao Dogbe
Lincoln: Ro Boddie