Entertainment » Theatre

The Best of Enemies

by Dale Reynolds
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Sep 23, 2015
Tiffany Rebecca Royale, Shon Fuller and Larry Cedar
Tiffany Rebecca Royale, Shon Fuller and Larry Cedar  (Source:Michael Lamont)

This West Coast premier of an extraordinary play about race relations, "The Best of Enemies," has been given a impressive production at the Colony Theatre (producer: Barbara Beckley), with a solid cast of four on a well-designed wide set, by David Potts.

Exciting doesn't state strongly enough how profound and entertaining this play is. Based on a true story of North Carolinian integration of the races, the time is 1971 and the two exacting sides of the seemingly-intractable problems are held by an African-American, Ann Atwater (Tiffany Rebecca Royale) and a European American, C.P. Ellis (Larry Cedar), who have been recruited by one of those black Northern "agitators," Bill Riddick (Shon Fuller), to create a healing process, a "charrette," by which opposite sides of the racial issues could be examined, allowing both camps dignity with full-discussion.

Ellis is a bonafide bigot: blue-collar, eighth grade education, poor and the head of the local KKK unit. He is married to a downtrodden but sensible woman, Mary (Holly Hawkins) and is dead set on keeping blacks out of the power structure of their Dunham. Atwater is a stalwart antagonist to the racist system which had bedeviled the African-American community there for generations.

But now Civil Rights was the fresh wind blowing away the corrupting influence of racism and Atwater and Ellis were the Dunham faces in front of Riddick's successful attempts to calm down the bigots and give the non-white citizens of their city full rights.

Mark St. Germain's play (based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Osha Gray Davidson) pulls no punches in showing us the two adversaries as they were: angry activists for 1) keeping the white race in full control and 2) allowing the Black race their share of the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Atwater is as full of race prejudice (based, of course, on a reality most of us do not know today, 44 years on) as Ellis is in representing his foolish ideology until he actually got to know a real person of a different color.

There's no way to over-praise this play and the accolades this production has earned. From the exemplary casting, with the powerful work Cedar and Royale deliver exploring the difficult path both characters took to achieve the needed results, to Fuller's responsible patience in navigating the real fears of racial integration, to Hawkins' astounding insight into Mary's thought process, director David Rose is to be fully congratulated on making it happen.

This is an intense and valuable play that should be seen by all folk who care about an American society based on equality and respect. Go see it! Do not delay. (Parenthetically, this has been a fascinating month so far with plays based on inter-racial themes: "Citizen: An American Lyric," "Chinglish," "American Falls" and "Mojada: Medea in L.A." are four strong plays that I have covered).

"Best of Enemies" plays through October 18 at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street, Burbank, 91502. For tickets or information, call 818-558-7000 or visit www.ColonyTheatre.org.

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