The Best of Enemies

by
The Best of Enemies

The Best of Enemies

Mrs. LanceAround has a vivid memory of her first encounter with extreme prejudice.

When only 5-years-old and living in a poor southern town, Mrs. LanceAround’s poverty stricken family had to hire a young, inexpensive helper to assist her pregnant mother with household chores. One day, the kind, black female helper took Mrs. LanceAround onto a city bus. As she held her hand up the steep bus steps, the large elderly white bus driver, in a voice filled with anger and hatred, demanded the young black servant make a quick retreat to the back of the bus. He then leaned to put his face directly into the face of the scared, 5-year-old Mrs. LanceAround and, flushed with a hatred that caused him to appear more horrible than a misshaped Halloween devil mask, told the little, white girl, who had the audacity to hold the hand of a black woman, that she, too, must go to the back of the bus.

To this day, Mrs. LanceAround cannot understand how it is possible for one human to feel such contempt for another human simply based on the color of their skin. We were intrigued with the concept of a play based on the true story of  a female African-American activist and a hate-filled leader of the KKK who were asked to co-chair a committee to assist with the desegregation of schools in Durham, NC in 1971. Would it be possible to create enough of a story arc that would engage an audience for nearly two hours?

Orlando Shakes’ production of The Best of Enemies demonstrates it’s not only possible, it’s wonderful. The playwright has selected a topic that could have easily lent itself to simplistic stereotyping; yet somehow he created a script filled with moments that were at once humorous, deeply moving, educational and profane. The actors plumbed the depth of both pathos and humanity. The direction was crisp and well-paced. The simplistic sets and dynamic lighting created the perfect atmosphere as the production fully utilized the intimate theatre to draw the audience directly into several scenes within the story. There were even several times where the lack of dialogue provided the most insightful and touching moments; such as a scene where the two protagonists were silently stapling papers together, or when they were clapping during a gospel song. Such is the power of this story that even these moments had the audience riveted to their seats, soaking in every last morsel of action.

The Entire Cast Participated in the Talk Back

The Entire Cast Participated in the Talk Back

The spontaneous standing ovation mingled with the muted sobs of the audience at the end of the show indicated that everyone in the theatre experienced the same emotionally cathartic release as had Mrs. LanceAround and I. The matinee performance concluded with an audience “Talk Back” when Orlando Shakes Artistic Director, Jim Helsinger, led the entire cast in a Q & A with the audience.

The first person to speak was Darryl, a black man who attended the performance with his white girlfriend, Julie. Darryl didn’t ask a question. Instead, with tearful emotion in his voice, he thanked the entire production crew for staging a play of this importance in our local Orlando Theatre. Mrs. LanceAround was touched by the way he allowed himself to be so vulnerable with his comments. The applause of the audience told her she was not alone with her appreciation of Darryl’s courage.

Julie and Darryl Loved the Play

Julie and Darryl Loved the Play

I caught up with Darryl and Julie at the end of the Talk Back. Darryl explained that his mother was a member of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that was bombed on Sunday September 15, 1961. Mercifully, his mother was not at the church on that day. For him, this play was personal. Based on the questions the audience asked and the answers given by the actors, it was obvious that everyone was touched by the powerful themes in this production.

Anna Carol, who played the wife of the KKK member, explained that she was born in 1985 in Minnesota. It was a much different world than the 1970’s of North Carolina. She had to do extensive research for her portrayal. She, and several audience members, discussed how they could relate to this issue by comparing it to the proliferation of bullying in schools today. Richard B. Watson who portrayed the KKK member, on the other hand, grew up in the south. He had only to recall conversations with his Aunt and Grandmother to help him create the voice and character of a someone struggling with desegregation. “The script is your Bible when creating a character,” he asserted, “What’s not in the script, you have to fill in.”

The Best of Enemies was produced in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida. It is, quite simply, another fantastic production by the talented people at Orlando Shakes. And for the lucky readers of my blog who come to Central Florida seeking more than a mouse™ it provides the perfect evening of entertainment to enhance your vacation plans. For our local friends, this play is a must see!

 

 

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