Black Surrogacy: Topdog/Underdog and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Dramatic Aesthetic



Contemporary playwright, novelist , screenwriter, and educator Suzan-Lori Parks won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play Topdog/Underdog just a few days after the play debuted on Broadway. By then, many of her plays were already highly regarded, as evidenced by her prestigious collection of accolades, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Obie Awards, and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” among others.

Parks is recognized for her skill in reshaping themes from American history. She does so by manipulating images, language, and tropes that ultimately challenge convention. Reviewers praise her for creating plays in which compellingly articulate characters offer scathing social and political commentaries regarding their respective environments and circumstances. To stage such a commentary, Suzan-Lori Parks employs a dramatic technique that this essay classifies as "Black Surrogacy."

Black Surrogacy is the dramatic act of replacing white literary and historical figures with Black characters. Applied to Parks’ plays, it serves as a theoretical lens by which to scrutinize an American identity that is primarily rooted in white notions of itself. Through a comparative analysis of commendations on and critiques of Topdog/Underdog, Black Surrogacy calls into question this narrow identity configuration and demonstrates the ways in which the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play ultimately reinforces the very stereotypes that it seeks to counter.

Keywords: dramatic aesthetic, Suzan-lori Parks, Topdog/Underdog, identity, stereotypes, Pulitzer Prize, Black Surrogacy, historical memory, 3-card monte, Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Obie Award, Adrienne Kennedy, playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, Tisch School of the Arts

How to Cite: Rogers, L. R. (2023) “Black Surrogacy: Topdog/Underdog and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Dramatic Aesthetic”, the Black Theatre Review. 1(2). doi: