Richard Hopkins has directed an astounding production of “The Best of Enemies” as tight as the strings of a violin, each note resonating a variation of a wide range of emotion. Mark St. Germain, whose best-known work, “Freud’s Last Session,” was among Off-Broadway’s longest-running plays, wrote the drama inspired by Osha Gray Davidson’s book, in turn based on a true story.
In 1971, Durham, N.C., was forced by law to act regarding desegregation of schools. C. P. Ellis, Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, and Ann Atwater, African-American activist, two understandably bitter antagonists, were likewise forced to work together to come to some sort of resolution for the town. The action takes place during their many conversations and confrontations completing this task and beyond.
The play is immensely successful in its realistic dialogue and insight into the human heart. It’s so inspirational as a blueprint for better race relations that I would love to see a mandatory performance at every high school in the United States. The writing makes the subject matter not only edifying, but highly entertaining, and at times, genuinely comical.
Sheffield Chastain’s portrayal of C.P. Ellis is so realistic, you can taste the grits on his lips. He brings this radical character to complete believability throughout a wild roller-coaster ride of feeling.
Atwater, known by some as “Rough house Annie,” played by Stephanie Weeks, is angry, angry, angry. And it’s justifiably so, because she’s just witnessed the assassination of an 18-year-old-girl for the crime of being black, among many others in the history of crimes against color. She exhibits a learning curve during the play, but it appears more understated.
Kevyn Morrow (director/choreographer of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”) shows us yet another side of his wide-ranging talent as Bill Riddick, the black government official who brings the lead characters together. When he introduces himself to Ellis as a community organizer, Ellis replies, “Does that make you a Commie?” Doesn’t this ring a contemporary bell?
Amanda Duffy gives a fine portrayal of Mary Ellis, a wiser long-suffering counterpoint to her husband.
IF YOU GO
‘The Best of Enemies’
When: Dec. 5 to Jan. 27
Where: FST’s Gompertz, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota
Tickets: $19 to $36
Info: Call 366-9000
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