Archive for April 2015
It’s always useful to be reminded of where we’ve been and how we’ve gotten to where we are. In the wake of Ferguson and today’s statistics concerning racial differentials in arrests, prison sentencing, academic achievement, and job opportunities, a good theatre piece on past racial realities in the United States can be a wake up call. Here is that call in Taproot’s production of “Best of Enemies” by Mark St. Germain and inspired by Osha Gray Davidson’s book of the same name.
“Best of Enemies,” is based on a true incident in Durham, North Carolina, in the 1970s when the Klan was a powerful force, and injustices and hatreds were rampant. Into this hotbed, a federal civil rights mediator comes to town to set up community dialogs. Oh course, he has to find a respected black and a respected white to lead the effort, and that is no easy task. Believe it or not he succeeds in recruiting a devoted Klansman (played by Jeff Berryman) who has even served as exalted cyclops of his Klan chapter. His counterpart is a civil rights worker and prominent female member of a major Black church (played by Faith Russell). Sounds impossible, but, yes, it is a true story.
They hate each other. Being in the same room causes their skin to itch. Yet somehow they both begin to look beyond prejudice and skin color and see their partner in this endeavor as just a person, not as a member of the despised “other”, just as another person trying to get this unpleasant job over with. Of course you know the outcome. They do bring the city together to discuss, not magnify the prejudices of the past and brainstorm on the issues that lie ahead. They even gain respect for each other. Through shared work they both change.
The acting here is top rate. Jeff Berryman is the quintessential bigot. He’s proud of his Klan membership, his leadership in the local group. He can sneer with the best of them, stomp around in high dudgeon at the indignity thrust upon him, but gradually you see little evidences of change.
Faith Russell is the epitome of the no-nonsense black woman. She’s proud. She’s strong. She’s been subjected to second-class citizenship all her life, and she does what it takes to change the future.
Director Scott Nolte has brought all the pieces together to create a memorable theatrical experience, as well as a reminder that the work is not yet finished.
Through April 25 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org)