Mark St. Germain’s “The Best of Enemies,” based on the book of the same name by Osha Gray Davidson, focuses on the integration of Durham City schools back in 1971, but more than that, it tells the story of two real-life people, Ann Atwater (Lakeisha Coffey), a very vocal civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis (Derrick Ivey), a Klu Klux Klan Exalted Grand Cyclops, and of the unlikely, life-altering friendship that forms between them when they co-chair a steering committee designed to help the integration process go more smoothly. Bringing the two together is federal mediator Bill Riddick (Thaddaeus Edwards), a strong-willed young man, who, initially, holds out more hope for a smooth, peaceful integration process than either Atwater or Ellis.
While it would be all too easy to make the relationship between Atwater and Ellis saccharine and overly sentimental, Germain’s play shows the real story—the subtle, gradual changes that take the pair from outright hatred of one another to a state of mutual love and respect. Coffey is feisty and fiery as Atwater, while Edwards’ complex performance gets to the meat of the deeply ingrained but ultimately breakable hatred that defines Ellis.
Also a part of the small cast are Edwards, who effectively portrays Riddick’s journey from naïve optimism to jadedness to optimism based in reality, and Elisabeth Lewis Corley, who turns out a solid performance as Ellis’ no-nonsense, voice-of-reason wife.
Director Joseph Megel coaches the subtlest of emotions from his gifted cast and doesn’t overwhelm the tender story with overly complex staging. Likewise Derrick Ivey’s simplistic set allows the beautiful story to take full and rightful center stage, while Andrew Parks’ lighting design adds dramatic emphasis where needed.
The script moves quickly to a startling climax, one that shows the great change—one from a place of darkness and hate to lightness and love—undergone by the two main characters, but because the change is made slowly and emotional moments are not overdone, the major moment packs the realistic punch that it should.
The opening night performance included the treat of having the real-life Ann Atwater and Bill Riddick in attendance, a fact that further solidified the emotional impact of the show. Those not at the opening night performance can still get a “close to home” taste of this powerful story thanks to the factual and intriguing displays, featuring photos of the people behind the characters, in the lobby of Manbites Dog Theatre.
The production has been so successful—and rightfully so—that the theatre has added additional performances, giving potential viewers no excuse to miss this experience, one that is as potentially life-changing for viewers as it was for the people who lived it.
Manbites Dog Theater presents THE BEST OF ENEMIES at 8:15 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13, 2 and 8:15 p.m. Dec. 14, 2 p.m. Dec. 15, and 8:15 p.m. Dec. 18-20, and 2 and 8:15 p.m. Dec. 21 at 703 Foster Street, Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $18 Friday-Sunday, with a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel and $5 Student Rush Tickets with ID.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Jon Haas): http://vimeo.com/80217274.
BLOG (The Upstager): http://www.theupstager.wordpress.com/.
NOTE: The 8:15 p.m. Dec. 12-14 and 2 p.m. Dec. 15 shows are SOLD OUT, but there will be a “Waiting List,” in case tickets become available. (See http://manbitesdogtheater.org/tickets/#symple-tab-waiting-list for details.)
The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South (2007 book): http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-8588.html (University of North Carolina Press).
Joseph Megel (director): http://comm.unc.edu/faculty-and-staff/faculty/joseph-megel/ (UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Communication Studies bio).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.