Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Best of Enemies" is a Best of Season! Must. See.

Jeff Berryman and Faith Russell in Best of Enemies (Erik Stuhaug)

Best of Enemies
Taproot Theatre
through April 25, 2015

The dramaturg's notes in the program for Taproot's show, Best of Enemies, says, "The first scene of Best of Enemies opens in Durham, North Carolina in 1968, amidst a Ku Klux Klan celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. As a Seattle audience in 2015, we react with horror at the violent threats and unabashed racism. That's a good response. It's healthy. But it's also easy (italics theirs)." 

That challenge is why, in the time of Ferguson protests, in the wake of Eric Garner's death due to untaxed cigarettes, this play is so important. Besides the stunningly effective craftsmanship of tiny, blink-of-an-eye scenes sketching in a full picture of the situation in Durham, it turns out that the story of a Klan leader (C.P. Ellis) and a black activist mother (Ann Atwater) becoming friends and changing Durham forever is a true one!


The cast is a dream. Jeff Berryman, a regular of Taproot's main stage, has to swing for the fences, saying mouthfuls of the worst words we can throw at people! And he does so with every necessary gusto! Having seen this man over some years, he is one of the nicest people you could meet. So, this is clearly difficult acting

Berryman's toe-to-toe adversary is Faith Russell, another Taproot regular, who has to stand and take it and throw it back. Part of why these two actors are so effective is that they know each other so well and trust each other. Their ability to inhabit these polar opposite characters absolutely makes us believe who they are and then long for and rejoice in their transition toward uneasy friendship.

The story of Durham involves a community organizer (Bill Riddick), ably played by Corey Spruill, who understands that essentially "words can never hurt me," as he tricks, cajoles and manages these two adversaries into chairing a reconciliation council. Riddick's main argument is that both these people have children in the Durham school system and both want better for their children. 

The other cast member is Jenny Vaughn Hall, who plays Ellis' wife and gracefully exhibits acceptance of her husband while allowing herself not to believe as he does. Her sweetness and pragmatism make the role shine.

The 2011 script is by Mark St. Germain, a playwright Taproot has often chosen to produce. He based the play on a book by Osha Gray Davidson. The effect of the production is almost cinematic - not surprising, since St. Germain has scripted movies as well - with scenes that are so short, they are almost not scenes at all. Taproot's marvelous sound design (by Mark Lund) gives us crowds responding to speeches, listening to school meetings, and exhorting by radio. 

Director Scott Nolte knows exactly what his end result should be and arrives on a soft and sure landing. This production may well jerk tears out of people who never cry!

The play's message, a focus on change that helps children, might be something we can all agree on, allowing us to take a second look at where we stand on many issues and measure where we might allow some compromised change to take place. In our increasingly divided society, where we associate in enclaves, this play might be life-changing for some. Go see it!

For more information, go to www.taproottheatre.org or call 206-781-9707.