Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective Presents Best of Enemies

On the heels of the successful 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood, Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective tackles not only a more serious issue but one much closer to home.

Through Best of Enemies, the 3rd show of their 7th season, audiences are presented with a seemingly simple, yet historically complicated question, “How can two people with widely opposing viewpoints find common ground within the context of their differences?

Osha Gray Davidson’s The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in The New South, chronicles a friendship that developed in 1970 between two people who began as bitter enemies —black activist Ann Atwater (Janet Oliver) and white Grand Cyclops of the

Durham North Carolina chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, C.P Ellis (Sean David Robinson). Mark St. Germain’s play, Best of Enemies, brings the story of this “unlikely friendship” to the stage against a Civil Rights backdrop.

Best of Enemies is based on the true events leading up to the official desegregation of the Durham school system in 1971. Ellis’ racism and contempt are challenged by Atwater, a local civil rights activist and Bill Riddick (Bjorn Goller), a community organizer from D.C. sent to Durham to facilitate the desegregation process. Both Ellis and Atwater are extremely reluctant to be in the same room together, let alone co-chair a committee to explore the problems in their school system. But through the course of their work together—and the tough-but-soft influence of Ellis’ wife, Mary (Molly Graves) — the two extremes find their way to the middle, uniting around their shared desire to secure a better future for their children. They realize that regardless of the color of their skin, their children are suffering in appalling school conditions. “We began to talk about what was on our heart,” Ellis says. “And both of us wept. … It was because the kids were suffering.”  In the documentary “An Unlikely Friendship”, Ellis explains that people join extremist groups because they feel “shut out.” “Deep down inside, we want to be part of this great society,” he says. “Nobody listens, so we join these groups.”

“We began to talk about what was on our heart,” Ellis says. “And both of us wept. … It was because the kids were suffering.”  In the documentary “An Unlikely Friendship”, Ellis explains that people join extremist groups because they feel “shut out”. “Deep down inside, we want to be part of this great society,” he says. “Nobody listens, so we join these groups.”

Managing artistic director Stephanie Hickling Beckman says, “I love how Best of Enemies explores what these two angry, opposite people have to go through in order to find common ground, and how relevant that is to the divisive times we’re going through in 2017. When I chose this play almost a year ago, I was very consumed by the negative effects of the social and political climate on my friends, and within our community; how people weren’t really listening to each other, yet fighting vehemently to be heard. Best of Enemies appealed to me as proof that the people of this country could find a way to listen to each other despite our personal and political differences; to work together for the rights, equality, and safety of all it’s citizens.”

Best of Enemies will run Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings from Aug. 17 – Sept. 2, at Be Be Theatre, located at 20 Commerce St.

Tickets are $18 in advance, and $21 at the door. Advance tickets for opening weekend, (Aug. 17-19), are $15. For tickets call 828-484-2014 or visit www.differentstrokespac.org.

Best of Enemies is directed by Ashleigh Millett-Goff, and features: Sean David Robinson, Janet Oliver, Bjorn Goller, and Molly Graves.

About Shelby Harrell
Shelby Harrell is the news editor of the Biltmore Beacon, editor of The Guide arts and entertainment publication and is a staff writer for Mountaineer Publishing. Originally from Asheville, she has worked in journalism for more than six years and currently lives in Clyde, NC.