Kash Goins may just be the king of urban theater around these parts. Recently awarded a $20,000 matching grant from the Knight Foundation for his annual Philly Urban Theater Festival that is put on every fall by his production company, GoKash Productions, Goins is “goin’ in” with intent to “Kash” out as the Topdog amongst Philadelphia’s black actors.
As a teen, Goins showed off his knack for acting by “producing” movie reenactments and cornerside skits in his neighborhood, but it wasn’t until college that he got his first big role as Johnny Williams in The River Niger. After graduating from Lincoln University, Goins pursued formal theatrical training at the historic Freedom Theater where he worked with director Walter Dallas on numerous in-house performances, including The Bluest Eye, Lazarus, and Sparkle: The Musical.
Although I had heard of GoKash Productions’ VI Degrees, VII Deadly Sins and Nigga Files (a collaborative effort with Donja Love), through social media and various advertisements, I only recently saw Kash Goins onstage at Plays and Players winter season’s run of August Wilson’s play, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Goins' flawless portrayal of the disturbed and wandering main character, Herald Loomis, prompted me to see the play twice during its two week run. When I spoke to him backstage on the set of his company’s latest production, he dished about how much he enjoyed playing such an intense role. “I like to push myself so I look for challenging roles. Taking on difficult characters enables me to learn more about myself and gain humanistic experiences,” the actor said during the interview.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the South Philly native likes a challenge. After all, before this year, Goins worked as a full-time actor, financed and presented The Philly Urban Theater Festival on his own, and wrote and produced several plays all while being an engaging father to his three boys and keeping date nights with his wife and best friend, Tiffany Goins. I asked about his ability to juggle it all and he attributed it to “being cognizant of everything” and still having great influence over his schedule. Goins noted that family life is important and keeps everything else balanced in the sometimes chaotic world of performance.
And so again, Goins takes on another difficult character as he plays the protagonist role in the GoKash Productions performance of the Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Topdog/Underdog by Suzan Lori-Parks. The play, which is directed by Malika Oyetimein and opened last week at the historic Walnut Street Theater's Studio 5, is a two-man show with Goins playing opposite Roderick Slocum, also a local actor, Philadelphia native and fellow Freedom Theater alumnus. Topdog/Underdog is about two brothers, Lincoln (Goins) and Booth (Slocum), living together in squalor and trying to balance the weight of a dark past and a bleak future within the close quarters of a shared boarding room.
If you have ever visited the theater’s smallest performance space, you know that the intimate 52-seat auditorium allows you to trace every bead of sweat from temple to chin on the performers’ face-- but you couldn’t ask for a better venue to watch these two brothers go at it on stage. Arranged as if you were sitting in the living room of the brothers, the audience become spectators in this dysfunctional family’s daily exchange of quarrels, deep discussions, and funny moments. Actors Goins and Slocum embody their characters with great precision. Slocum is believable as the fast talking, hotheaded, boosting brother Booth, while Goins gives the intense and troubled Lincoln a persona to be reckoned with. Together on stage, it becomes evident that there are no underdogs when it comes to their performance.
The 16-show run of Topdog/Underdog is currently playing in the historic Walnut Street Theater’s Studio 5 through Father's Day, June 17th.