Suzan-Lori Parks on “Topdog/Underdog”, “Plays for a Plague Year” and Singing Her Song
The singular and incendiary talent of playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is showcased this season in three world premieres—Play for the plague year at Joe’s Pub, The more they come to the Public this winter, and Sally and Tom at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis – and the Broadway revival of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play in 2001 Topdog/Underdog.
In Kenny Leon’s transcendent production, Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II play brothers Lincoln and Booth, struggling through the chaos of shared history, pain and love with searing force and heartbreaking intensity. . Parks explained how she does all of this, the artist’s role as a “sacred agent” and the need to “wake up with love.”
vogue: Welcome! It’s such an honor. You are having an amazing year.
Suzan-Lori Parks: I feel very blessed. I do what I’m supposed to do. I realized the other day that doing the TV show that came out last year, Genie: Arethaand the movie, USA vs. Billie Holidaydoing those two things, especially showrunning for tv, prepared me perfectly to do three world premieres and a Broadway revival at a time. And I have fun!
You left out that you were also inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
I feel so lucky and grateful to work with amazing collaborators. I feel like I got my brotherhood with Kenny Leon directing Topdog/Underdogunder the direction of Niegel Smith Play for the plague yearunder the direction of Tony Taccone The more they comeand with Steve Broadnax III directing Sally and Tom. These incredible artists. I could go on and on.
Let’s talk about Topdog/Underdog. I saw the production of this play in 2003 at the Royal Court in London. I had never been in a theater where a play was so alive with its audience. It changed some internal chemistry in me.
“Changed some of the internal chemistry.” Yes. You have received the transmission.
Tell me more.
I realize, when I am doing my job, when I am in the groove of my goal, capital P, when I am in the way with my higher self, capital S, that my work is an agent of the sacred. And the people who participate with me in the creation of this work become sacred agents. This is what we do. All the way back from [Parks’s 1990 play] The Death of the World’s Last Black Man aka The Negro Book of the Deadall the way, even when I’m doing work for hire, like Genie: Aretha Where USA vs. Billie Holliday Where native son Where Girl 6, I devote myself to transmitting the beautiful song, capital S, of the soul, the song of the spirit. It’s 2022, and it’s time for me to talk about it.