The premise of “The Best of Enemies” sounds like a gimmick: Ku Klux Klan leader and black civil-rights activist are forced to work together.
The resolution sounds like an old TV afterschool special: They become friends and learn to let go of hate and violence.
It’s 1971 and government worker Bill Riddick has arrived in racially divided Durham, N.C., to prepare the citizens for court-ordered school desegregation. He cannily and cockily convinces black activist Ann Atwater and Klan officer C.P. Ellis to co-chair a series of town meetings on the issue.
This sets up the characters, unfortunately, as caricatures. Atwater is the sassy black woman with a sitcom-ready retort for every putdown. Ellis is the spitting, epithet-spewing redneck.
But under the direction of Mark Routhier, actors Avis-Marie Barnes and Richard B. Watson find layers in these adversaries. Barnes has a depth of conviction that grounds her character, and under Watson’s hate — look for it — is a tinge of fear and a touch of bewilderment. They are beautiful characterizations.
Don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two by play’s end. You’re not crying for the characters. The emotion is for the high ideals of humanity: progress, peace, hope. They are ideals worth celebrating, and this worthy play does just that.
‘The Best of Enemies’
• What: An Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of a play by Mark St. Germain
• Length: 1:45, no intermission
• When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays; through Nov. 16
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• Cost: $20-$45, with discounts available for students and military personnel; $10-$22 for Wednesday matinees; $20 for anyone younger than 30 on Oct. 24
• What else: All proceeds from a special performance at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, will benefit the Holocaust Center. The evening begins with a 6 p.m. reception and features an introduction by Pamela Woodley, whose mother was among the first to join the 1962 lawsuit to desegregate Orange County schools. Tickets are $100.
• Call: 407-447-1700
• Online: Orlandoshakes.org
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