The St. Louis Black Repertory Company attained this accolade the old-fashioned way: They earned it. For its 25th-anniversary season, the Black Rep assembled a solid core acting company -- which in itself is a rarity these days. That versatile company then succeeded in staging four absorbing plays and one jubilant musical. As intriguing as each production was, the season was even more impressive in its totality than in its parts, for each show fit into a larger whole as neatly as a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. There was a rare cohesiveness and symmetry to the Black Rep season, as if each play had a specific reason for being. Some of the shows had shortcomings (this theater could benefit from stronger directors, but what theater couldn't?), yet all five productions were consistent in their ability to surprise the audience. Surprise is an element too often forgotten in the theater equation, but it shouldn't be. There's nothing more deadly in a theater company than predictability. You can use lots of adjectives to describe producing director Ron Himes and his Black Rep: ambitious, energetic, hungry -- but predictable and complacent the Black Rep is not.