The irony of this year's festival is that the breakout hit, Brown's Pure Confidence, has the most theatrical flair and the least radical political content. The story of jockey Simon Cato, an African American slave who attempts to buy his freedom from his exploitive though ultimately quite likable white owners, has touches of comic brilliance, thanks largely to a rough, charismatic protagonist you actually don't mind spending a little time with. One scene in particular, involving Cato's calling of an imagined horse race between freedom and slavery, charges the stage with Suzan-Lori Parkslike linguistic vigor. But the work panders to the sentimental sensibilities of the audience. By striving to show the good and bad in all his characters, Brown skirts the harshness of his real subjectthe no-win situation of blacks in pre and postCivil War America. Here's a historical tragedy that isn't gray. Drama 101 may contend otherwise, but some things really are black and white.
Sad to say, the rousing standing ovation that erupted at the end of Pure Confidence was more disturbing than the play itself. Playwrights will have to ignore such cheap rewards if we're ever to achieve the political theater we sorely need.