New Horizon opens late with ‘TopDog/UnderDog’

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Although the 2009-2010 season opened fairly late due to Go. Ed Rendell’s budget snafu, New Horizon Theater’s new season started with a heavy but humorous production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Top Dog/Under Dog.”

The play runs at Lawrenceville’s Grey Box Theater until Nov. 22. It was directed by actor Herb Newsome.

Newsome expertly performed his one-man play, “Freeman In Paris” last season for New Horizon.

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He is an actor, writer and director who hail from New York City. Newsome has appeared in several films including the “The Pick Up Artist,” and “The Brother From Another Planet.”

New Horizon chairperson Joyce Meggerson-Moore said Newsome was happy to return to New Horizon as a director.

“I was talking to Herb about our funding issue and that the governor didn’t give us any money and we were looking for a project that wouldn’t cost us a lot of money but one that would give our audience a good show,” Meggerson-Moore said. “Herb said he had two plays that he wanted to do.

“I relied on a program committee to select the plays for this season and they came up with that one,” said Meggerson-Moore. “The play challenges your comfort zone because it has strong language and it deals with issues like abandonment and things that make people uncomfortable.”

“Top Dog/Underdog,” which Parks penned in 2001, tells the story of brothers Booth and Lincoln who were abandoned by both parents and left to fend for themselves. As a result, they rely on each other to survive. As they reach their 30s, the boys have trouble finding legitimate jobs and getting out of the poverty they have lived in all their lives.

The older of the two, Lincoln, used to be a master of three-card Monte. In an effort to make a better life for himself, Lincoln has abandoned his life of crime and works at an arcade as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. But Booth refuses to let go of his life of crime and works as a petty theft.

Booth wants to be like his brother, Lincoln. He tries to capture some of Lincoln’s success by learning how to play the game like his brother.

Throughout the two and a half hour play, the brothers play off each other and compete, each in search of a better life.

Once Lincoln proves that Booth doesn’t have what it takes to run the cards, a fed up Booth pulls a gun and shoots Lincoln.

“This play talks about a lot,” said Arkansas native Anton Floyd who plays Booth. “You get to see a relationship between brothers and their search for the American Dream. Everyone wants to have the wife and the house, but Booth goes about it the wrong way. Despite all that, you still get to see Booth’s love for his brother, it’s still there.”

New Horizon Theater had been holding its productions at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty for several seasons until the Kelly-Strayhorn couldn’t accommodate the theater company.

“They could only accommodate us on weekends in December,” Meggerson-Moore said. “They cut out time in the theater with the weeks that we could run the play so we had to look for other venues.”

The Grey Box Theater turned out to be the perfect place to hold “Top Dog/ Under Dog.”

The play worked well in the small, dark, intimate theater because it felt like the small, cramped apartment that the play is set in.

“The play had to be done here because it would have been too overwhelming if it had been done at the Kelly-Strayhorn,” she said.

The intimate setting and the subject matter are the reasons Quester Hannah decided to take on the role of Lincoln.

“Suzan-Lori is one of my favorite playwrights and when I got the chance I would jump to be in one of her plays,” Hannah said. “I like that New Horizon had the play here (at the Grey Box Theater) because the space is more intimate and the whole setting fits the piece. This was a beautiful experience and I’m looking forward to working with them in the future.”

Hannah, who hails from New York, will be debut his play, “Paul and Saul: The Remix” as a reading with the Negro Ensemble Repertory Company next year.

New Horizon Theater’s coming attractions include a special holiday concert by local artist J’Aira Pryor and Friends Dec. 12. The event will be held at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty.

Levi Barcourt and the Jazz Ensemble will be the featured guests for New Horizon’s Black History Month Celebration. The event will be held from Feb. 11-14.

Following the annual special event May 1, “I Gotcha! The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clan” will run from May 20-June 7.

(For more information on any of New Horizon’s plays or for ticket information, contact New Horizon Theater at 412-431-0773 or at newhorizontheater@yahoo.com.)

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