‘Topdog’s’ day in U.K.

LONDON — “Topdog/Underdog” gets the royal treatment this summer when Suzan-Lori Parks‘ 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winner has its British preem at the Royal Court Theater, its Broadway creative team entirely intact.

Plans are for a summer run at the Court starting Aug. 5 and opening Aug. 11 through Aug. 30. The Broadway duo of Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright will repeat their acclaimed turns as brothers Lincoln and Booth in the Public Theater staging to be helmed, as in New York, by Public a.d. George C. Wolfe.

For Wolfe, who was repped in London last fall by the Old Vic stand of Elaine Stritch‘s solo show, Parks’ play returns the director to the auditorium where he first made his U.K. name with previous Public Theater entries, “The Colored Museum” and “Spunk.”

“Topdog” also furthers the Court’s interest in some of the more intriguing black dramatists on both sides of the pond. That list includes DeObia Oparei, author of “Crazyblackmuthafuckin’self” (talk about a Suzan-Lori Parks-like title), which premiered at the Court late last year, and Roy Williams, whose latest play, “Fallout,” starring Lennie James, precedes “Topdog” on the Court mainstage, opening June 17.


Speaking of reasons to be in Britain in August: Fiona Shaw will play Arkadina to Iain Glen‘s Trigorin in a new production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” from the celebrated German director Peter Stein. The staging looks poised to be a high point of this summer’s Edinburgh Intl. Festival, running Aug. 10-30, and encompassing classical music, opera and dance alongside the tony theatrical fare.

With Jodhi May (“The Talking Cure,” TV’s “Daniel Deronda”) on hand as Nina, this “Seagull” will mark a rare English-language foray for Stein, who has brought Chekhov’s three other masterworks (“The Cherry Orchard,” “Three Sisters,” “Uncle Vanya”) to various Edinburgh fests over the years.

A co-production with the Russian Drama Theater of Riga, Latvia, “The Seagull” isn’t the only classic text about to get an Edinburgh makeover. “Hamlet” hoves into view yet again, this time directed by Spanish bad boy Calixto Bieito, whose controversial new “Macbeth” comes to London’s Barbican Center in May. Scottish actor George Anton, an alum of Bieito’s much-traveled staging of the Calderon de la Barca play “Life Is a Dream,” will star.


If London had a proper commercial equivalent to Off Broadway, there might have been an extended life for “The Green Man,” the Doug Lucie play that finished a sellout Bush Theater run March 22. As it happens, I caught the show’s final perf and am very glad I did, however overwritten and occasionally repetitive Lucie’s barroom saga sometimes was.

Those cavils, as always with Lucie, author of “Progress” and “Hard Feelings,” have to be set against this playwright’s characteristic cut-and-thrust, a killer approach that has been firing up leftist British drama for some two decades now. In “The Green Man” (the title takes its name from the pub where the play is set), an ever-fractious Britain is here embodied by two men jointly prepping with several others for a fishing trip. (Phil Daniels‘ Lou, indeed, arrives clutching a copy of Carpworld, not a magazine of my acquaintance.)

On the one hand, there’s the bespectacled lefty Lou, an emotive veteran of two failed marriages who has sworn off sex. His antithesis turns out to be Lou’s ultra-materialistic employer Mitch (a memorably bristling Danny Webb), an adulterer who is as immune to peace and quiet as Lou is to his boss’s bully-boy ways.

While John Ramm‘s publican Bernie plies the men with drinks, an increasingly smashed assemblage sees their illusions smashed as various prejudices are punishingly, biliously aired. The didacticism inherent in the writing rankles surprisingly little, set against the compelling sight of Webb and Daniels circling each other like two fisherman awaiting their own impalement on some unseen hook. They, and the entire cast, deserve a comeback; so, in a suitably intimate environment, does Lucie’s play.

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