Tonight I saw Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog. I never saw the original production with Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright. I imagine it was magnificent.
I’ve never known the story of this play, so tonight was entirely fresh for me. Still, I knew that people really shouldn’t have been laughing — or at least not quite so uproariously — at certain turns in the plot. I knew very early on where we were headed.
Knowing didn’t make the experience any less powerful. Maybe gave it that much more weight. There are so many reasons that this story resonated deeply for me. But, beyond the feelings of personal connectedness with this story (which, of course, could not be less like anything in my own life, but still), there was the beautiful revelation of the actors’ performances.
Not surprise that Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are good actors. I’ve known that for some time. But the nature of the play creates such an extraordinary space for two talents to expand in, so much room to stretch fully into the roles, into the electricity of playing off one another, into owning so much real estate on the stage.
I left needing some connection, some … something to shine its light on me. Not a happy ending. I don’t always need a happy ending. But something. My walk from the theater to the subway had no magic, however, and folks on my train were very drawn into themselves. I mean, of course, but I needed some energy from them, some of the random connection this city often tosses up.
And then we pulled into Dekalb. A bunch of people left the train. A man jumped up and crossed over to a seat A young woman had just vacated. He was shouting … because she’d left her fanny pack on the seat. She was walking away from the train, not hearing him or any of the other people who began shouting for her. Whatever was streaming through her earbuds did a good job of keeping her focused away from the train.
Trains don’t sit long in stations, so there wasn’t much time. Some people in the car told the guy to toss the bag onto the platform. A teenaged boy and I had left our seats and were standing in the doorway. We shouted almost in unison: “Lady with the green hat!” And she finally turned around and saw the man waving her bag in the air from the next door down the car. She ran over and grabbed it, the doors closed, and we continued on our way.
Thank you, my city. It was what I needed. I didn’t want to feel so anonymous in that moment and New York conjured up some we’re-all-family business for me.
What’s more, I’ve been that woman in the green hat. Years ago, I walked off a tram in Budapest without my purse. I ignored the shouts behind me and kept walking. Someone on that tram made the decision to fling my bag at me before the doors closed. And that lovely soul had a strong arm and great aim. My bag slammed into the back of my head, very definitely getting my attention. I was that woman just a few weeks ago. I took off my backpack at the grocery store and was walking away after checking out when the man behind me smacked my arm with my bag. I have been that woman a number of times between Budapest and Foodtown. And always, someone saves me from my foolishness.
So thank you again, my city. We’re all family, and I’m not in this alone. Wrapped in one random moment on a southbound express train. I’ll take it.