Every once and awhile, a play comes along that is so powerful, you want everyone to see it knowing that in the end, that no matter what you say about the project, no words will be able to do the play justice. For me, Taproot's current production of Best of Enemies is that play.
Mark St. Germain's work, based on the story The Best of Enemies by Osha Gray Davidson, is fast-paced, riveting and surprisingly funny for such a serious topic. As expected, headliners, Jeff Berryman and Faith Russell do an outstanding job, but supporting players, Corey Spruill and Jenny Vaughn Hall are the perfect additions for this ensemble production.
Best of Enemies is based on an unbelievable true story and one that is surprisingly not told to many of today's students. The more you don't know about the story ahead of time, the better. In short, this story is about how a Ku Klux Klan leader and a man-hating black woman were able to settle their differences. The setting sounds like a perfect set up for an episode of The Twilight Zone, only, it really happened. C.P. Ellis (Berryman), the KKK leader and outspoken Ann Alwater (Russell) of North Carolina were tasked to co-chair an event to reconcile race relations in the local public schools. It sounds like a bad idea, but one that a cocky Bill Riddick (Spruill), a black political spokesman, thought he could handle. These were days way before political correctness was a term in our vocabulary. Instead of making the two pretend that they didn't hate each other, he let them speak honestly. If you are sensitive to hearing the “N-word,” this play may not be for you. The play is filled with derogatory terms and some harsh language throughout, but it would be hard to present such a play without them. At one point in the story, Riddick spouts off every offensive term to describe black and white people to the others in hopes that once they were all said, that they could focus on the matter at hand – their schools.
Best of Enemies is a multi-layered play that features short vignettes rather than long acts. The 90-minute play has no intermission and it doesn't need one, for if it did, I doubt anyone would have left their seat. It is established that the two main characters have a belief in God. Ellis involvement with the KKK firmly believed that he was doing God's work. Atwater herself was very involved with her church. Neither of them really play the hero of the story. Yes, the two do work things out in the end, and it is as powerful redemption story, but they are not heroes; only human. If there is a hero in the story, that belongs to Ellis's wife, Mary (Hall), who makes the wise observation that humans have a habit of creating lines between others that go beyond black and white relations. We humans find a way to take sides whether it man vs. woman, Republican vs. Democrat, Christian vs. Non-Christian, etc. Our ideals and our desire to be “right” becomes more important than actually living in harmony with others. Mary dared to cross over a few lines and everyone became better people because of it.
The performance I attended received a standing ovation, (as I am sure most of the performances will) but ironically, of everyone in attendance, only one or two black people were in the audience. I'm not sure what that means. Enemies stresses the importance that no matter who started the war, we need everyone to work together to end it.
Best of Enemies continues through April 25, but don't be surprised if the show gets held over. Though the program is not appropriate for younger audiences, it is a perfect discussion starter for those 8th grade and up. Performances are held at Taproot Theatre Company located at 208 N. 85th St. in Seattle. Tickets may be purchased online or by calling the box office at (206) 781-6882.