Rising theater star proves he's Topdog

Meet actor Biko Eisen-Martin, this Branson School alum is currently wowing audiences in TOPDOG/UNDERDOG at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley.

Branson School alum Biko Eisen-Martin wows Mill Valley audiences at MTC

“Watch me close, watch me close now,” says actor Biko Eisen-Martin at the very beginning of the play Topdog/Underdog. And, watch this Branson School alum close we should.

It’s been 12 years since Biko (’00) graduated from Branson, the prestigious private high school located in Ross, but you may still remember the charismatic 6’-3” guard for his impressive 3-point shot or the friendly California Arts Scholar for his national slam poetry championship titles (he had three!). Now living in New York, he is a professional stage actor who just recently completed grad school at the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver and received his Actors' Equity Association card (membership to the labor union is required to work at any high-level professional theater in the US).

Don’t miss Biko this month at the Marin Theatre Company, the 46-year old professional nonprofit theater located on Miller Ave in Mill Valley. In Suzan-Lori Parks's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Topdog/Underdog, he portrays the role of Booth, a wannabe con artist caught up in an intense rivalry with his older brother Lincoln, who was played by New York-based actor Bowman Wright. Praised as “dazzling” by the Marin IJ, the production received the San Francisco Chronicle's highest rating, “Wild Applause,” with Biko spotlit for his “edgily engaging” and “comically impressive” performance. Topdog/Underdog marks a number of firsts for the homegrown actor – his first appearance at MTC, his first in the Bay Area since receiving his MFA and his first in the region as a member of Actors' Equity.

A native of San Francisco, Biko is, however, no stranger to the region's stages. Last seen on stage in the Bay Area in the 2009 world premiere of Fuku Americanus, an adaptation of Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, at Intersection for the Arts, he has also appeared at Z Space and SF Theatre Fest in San Francisco, TheatreWorks in Mountain View, Renegade Theatre Experiment in San Jose, Eugene O’Neill Festival in Danville and Brookside Repertory Theatre in Berkeley.

But it all started in Ross at Branson. As a youth, he trained with resident drama teacher (and Mill Valley resident) Maura Vaughn and was mentored as a slam poet by his English teacher Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Biko's relationship with Bamuthi continued even after his teacher changed jobs and began a 13-year career with Youth Speaks, the San Francisco-based nonprofit presenter of spoken word performance, education and youth development programs. That's where Biko matured his skills as a poet in workshops, becoming champion of their 1999, 2000 and 2001 National Teen Poetry Slams, and nurtured his passion for live performance.

Keep a close eye on Biko Eisen-Martin. As a large group of Branson School alumni will discover next week when they come to support their former classmate: he's a powerful, engaging actor who's destined to become a Topdog in the world of theater.

Topdog/Underdog by Suzan Lori Parks
EXTENDED! Now through Oct 28
Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley
(415) 388-5208 | marintheatre.org
“Exhilarating” – San Francisco Chronicle | “Explosive” – San Francisco Examiner

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