Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Corey Hawkins are bringing their blockbuster-selling talents to the Broadway stage in the first revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer prize-winning 2001 play, Topdog/Underdog.
The dark comedy-laden drama sees Abdul-Mateen and Hawkins as brothers Lincoln and Booth whose opposing names, chosen for them as a joke, actually predict a lifetime of conflict and resentment between them. With only each other to lean on, they attempt to dig themselves out of poverty while simultaneously fighting demons from their shared past.
But Hawkins, perhaps most widely known for his roles in Straight Outta Compton, The Walking Dead, and BlacKKKlansman, is old hat at hitting the Broadway stage. Hawkins gave a Tony-nominated performance in 2017’s Six Degrees of Separation, and performed as Tybalt in the the Broadway production of Romeo & Juliet in 2013.
Each was drawn to the material for different reasons, but ultimately, it was Parks’ unique voice and the play’s timeless tale that called them both to the stage.
“For me, it was about the play. I was introduced to this play about 15 years ago. I did a small showcase as an undergraduate,” Abdul-Mateen recalls. “I remember, this was the first piece of material that I read and did onstage that felt like myself.”
The actor says before taking this role on all those years ago, he was most typically drawn to Shakespeare, due to his ability to hide in the material. But this play opened his eyes to the possibility of revealing himself through his character instead.
“Fifteen years later, I get to explore this character as an adult, as a man going through these circumstances.”
“It’s just rare that you find good material that speaks to you, that talks to you, that sits with you, that stays in your dreams,” Hawkins says. “Still discovering things about this play all these years later after having read it years ago – there’s something about [Suzan-Lori Parks’] words – so to have the opportunity to not only sit with it, but to sit with it with this team, these legends, these greats, [is amazing].
“I just feel like we’re really on the ride, and we just invite people who come to see it to get on this ride with us. This play pulls the rug right out from under you. I think that’s so powerful.”
Both commented that since the play feels so familiar, it will be interesting to see how their family members react to it.
“To see ourselves up on stage, or to see someone you know, or someone you think you know, you care about these people,” Hawkins explains.
“That’s me, I want my cousins to see this play,” Abdul-Mateen says smiling.
“Yeah, you want to know what they think,” Hawkins agrees, noting that he wants is father to see it to gauge his reaction. “Because you know it’s going to mess them up! In a good way.”
Topdog/Underdog begins previews at New York’s John Golden Theatre on September 27, and opens to the general public for a 16-week limited engagement on October 19.