Hofstra alumni from the Department of Drama and Dance – Lamar Cheston ’09, Isaiah Stanley ’15 and Kara-Lynn Vaeni ’92 – are mounting a production of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Topdog/Underdog as part of Welcome Week 2015 activities for first-year students.
This past spring all incoming first-year students were asked to read Topdog/Underdog and invited to discussions about the work while they were on campus for summer orientation. The students will continue to analyze the play’s themes of race, freedom, family and responsibility when they attend one of four performances, August 29, 30, and 31, at The Helene Fortunoff Theater. On Monday, August 31, they will have an opportunity to meet the playwright, Suzan-Lori Parks, who will deliver a special address at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse. Parks is considered one of the most exciting and acclaimed playwrights in American drama today and is the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
The Hofstra production, directed by Vaeni, stars Stanley and Cheston as brothers Booth and Lincoln, who, abandoned by first one parent and then the other, have had to depend upon each other for survival since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the brothers struggle to make a new life, one that will lead them out of poverty. Lincoln, a master of the con game three-card monte, has abandoned a life of crime for a more respectable job impersonating Abraham Lincoln at an arcade. Booth earns his living as a petty thief, one who wishes to emulate his older brother’s success by learning how to “throw the cards.” Throughout the play, the brothers compete against each other, vying for control. At any given moment, one may yield power over the other, only to relinquish it in the next. Topdog/Underdog reveals a topsy-turvy world in which Lincoln and Booth live, a chaotic world that is as dangerous as it is illusory.
After graduating from Hofstra, Vaeni earned an MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama. She is the artistic director of Director Collective and a professor at Hofstra. Her directorial work has been seen at HERE, BAM, The National Theatre of Prague, The Guggenheim Works & Process, New Georges, Dallas Theatre Center, Yale Repertory Theatre, Irondale, 3LD, 2G, NYC Fringe, The Flea, The Wild Project, The Duplex, Montana Rep and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Florida.
Cheston returned to campus last winter to reprise his starring role in the off-Broadway Black Angels Over Tuskegee as part of Hofstra’s Black History Month celebration. In addition to acting, Lamar is site director for an afterschool program at PS 40 in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, run by the non-profit organization Wingspan Arts. He works with students, grades K-5, who take daily classes in subjects like drama, dance, storytelling and arts and crafts.
Stanley graduated from Hofstra with a BFA in acting this past May. As a student he appeared in The Motherf**ker with the Hat, Clybourne Park, Farragut North, Gypsy, and three Shakespeare Festivals: Richard II, Much Ado About Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra.