These series aim to collect the creme de la creme of contemporary American drama. The annual "Best Plays" series has been in production under various names and various stellar editors since 1920, when Broadway really was Broadway. Recently, Jenkins (theater studies, NYU) took over and inaugurated a format change: omit play excerpts in favor of commissioned essays that re-create the theatergoing experience; this 82d edition follows suit. Of course, 9/11 marred the 2001-02 season, but there was superior drama to be had, such as Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Suzan-Lori Parks's Topdog/Underdog, and Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses. Frequently, the contributors muse on the potential effects of the terrorist attacks on play scripts. Wide-ranging theater statistics-a hallmark of the series-remain, which give the book a reference bent. There's also a survey of off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows, as well as lists of prizes, casts, and a description of plays produced in the regional nonprofit theaters outside New York City. This is, most unfortunately, the last edition to feature the drawings of Al Hirschfeld, who passed away last January. Like Jenkins's volume, these fourth and fifth installments in the "New Playwrights" series are useful for documenting the state of dramatic writing, maybe more so because Lepidus considers regional theater in addition to Broadway productions. By his account, grimness rules the day. Of the 14 plays reprinted in both volumes, only Douglas Carter Beane's Music from a Sparkling Planet (2001) lightens the mood, but Noises Off it isn't. The other selections-e.g., Naomi Iizuka's 36 Views and Anne Nelson's The Guys-are at least interesting and topical and, at most, absorbing. But if theater is life, then where are the women? In total, four plays call for only one female actor, and two others have no roles at all for women. As disconcerting as this is, "New Playwrights" is valuable for introducing up-and-comers and is therefore recommended for larger drama collections. With more built-in appeal, "Best Plays" can be recommended more widely.-Larry Schwartz, Minnesota State Univ., Moorhead Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.