Photo Flash: BEST OF ENEMIES at Pacific Theatre
How do we build the future? The year is 1971. Civil rights activist Ann Atwater is fighting a pitched battle to desegregate public schools in her hometown of Durham, North Carolina. C.P. Ellis is the Exalted Cyclops of the local KKK chapter. When a Washington mediator arrives in Durham to negotiate the desegregation process, Ann and C.P. find their mutual poverty puts them on the same side of the table.
Based on Osha Gray Davidson's non-fiction book The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South, Ann and C.P.'s story is as vital now as it was in 1971. Director Ian Farthing finds value in looking back as we continue to struggle with the legacy of slavery and ongoing efforts to combat racism and bigotry, especially in our education systems. "Fifty years after these events took place, the story is still, sadly, as relevant and pertinent today," he said. "But its message - that when people actually connect, prejudice can disappear - is one that gives me hope."
Playwright Mark St. Germain specializes in bringing figures from history to life on stage, whether dramatizing true stories like Best of Enemies or sketching imagined meetings of the mind in Freud's Last Session (staged at Pacific in the 2015-16 season). Germain wrote Best of Enemies in 2012; this is the play's Canadian premiere.
The play centers around a 'charrette', a meeting run by government moderator Bill Riddick (Anthony Santiago) where both black and white community members were encouraged to construct the new school system together. Despite the weighty context, the cast says they're looking forward to finding the complexity and even humour in these not-so-distant figures. Celia Aloma is excited to step into Ann Atwater's shoes. "What interests me the most about Ann is her courage to speak up," she said. "Ann used her voice to help people. She was the voice of her community. Speaking is a gift, our voice is a gift. I'm excited to use my voice to share Ann's story."
Pacific Theatre's alley stage is both a challenge and an opportunity for set designers. Designer Sandy Peters has chosen assemblage art, an installation-based style popular in the 1970s, as a starting point. "Assemblage art is a tool for experimentation, improvisation, and re-contextualizing 'everyday' objects and materials into complex storytelling vehicles," said Peters. "I'm using the idea of socially-charged assemblage artwork as a framework to explore this show visually and physically. It is a very complicated story to tell and I hope that this undertaking navigates the passages of beauty and abjection, the heart and horror of these histories, as well as the characters do."
Photo Credit: Diamond's Edge Photography
Celia Aloma, Rob Salvador
Celia Aloma, Rob Salvador