Shitty plays generally don't earn Pulitzer Prizes, so it wasn't astonishing that Suzan-Lori Parks' 2002 Topdog/Underdog kept viewers' attention. But this Susan Seret-directed piece, staged at South Coast Repertory, didn't just make you pay notice; it grabbed you by the throat and forced attention. The two-person character study about brothers trying to reject—and embrace—street-level hustling offered a rich perspective on life in inner-city black America, something sorely lacking in our black-free county. But the combination of Parks' street-poetry-infused writing and the dynamic performances of Larry Bates and Curtis McClarin elevated it above the topic of color and into the discussion of nothing short of the American dream, in all its red, white and blue illusion.
An honorable mention for best play goes to the Brian Newell-directed Frost/Nixon at the Maverick Theater. Newell's novel staging, which incorporated live video alongside his stellar cast, made for a gripping production.