A poison’s antidote
Best of Enemies
If the Ku Klux Klan wasn’t so monstrous, it could be almost comical, with its Klavens and Wizards and Grand Cyclopes. The Klan was big in the segregated South (and elsewhere), and it’s not dead yet. Still, we hope these Cyclopes see the light, shed the sheets and join the rest of humanity.
Celebration Arts’ Best of Enemies, a play by Mark St. Germain based on the bestselling nonfiction book by Osha Gray Davidson, tells an unlikely—but true—story about the relationship between an African-American civil rights activist and a Grand Cyclops of the KKK during the desegregation of Durham, N.C., schools in 1971.
Voress Franklin is remarkable as Ann Atwater, a black woman who takes nothing from nobody and speaks her mind (and heart) right in the face of hatred and disdain. Chris Lamb delivers a brave performance as KKK member C.P. Ellis, spouting hatred, flinging the N-word around like he means it and carrying a gun like he intends to use it.
They are brought together—forced, really—when Bill Riddick (Maszaba Carter), a federal mediator for the Department of Education, is sent to oversee school desegregation and puts together a steering committee to reconcile disparate viewpoints. That Atwater and Ellis gain a better understanding of the other is remarkable, but their unlikely friendship is evidence that the poison of prejudice doesn’t have to be lethal.
James Wheatley directs the play as a series of short scenes, slipping back and forth from Ellis’ workplace or kitchen (with wife Mary, played quietly but surely by Amy Williams) and Atwater’s home and their joint scenes. It becomes a little “his scene, her scene, their scene” mechanical, but it works. And there’s only one set, and rearranging chairs and turning a desk into a table are the only changes, so it all moves relatively smoothly.