A racially charged Durham story in The Best of Enemies | Theater | Indy Week

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A racially charged Durham story in The Best of Enemies

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What year is it on your street?

We used to say of my hometown, "It's 20 miles north of Greensboro, 20 miles south of the Virginia border—and about 20 years back in time." That joke seems less funny in the wake of the horrors of Ferguson, Missouri in August.

Ferguson's population and police seem to live in different decades, and they're not alone. With legislators turning back the calendar in North Carolina, our new electoral district maps seem a twisted grid on which social classes are meticulously segregated according to outmoded values.

In adding video footage from Ferguson to the opening of THE BEST OF ENEMIES, designer Jon Haas reminds us that this remount of Manbites Dog Theater's 5-star production from last December won't be turning into a period piece anytime soon.

The play tells the compelling true story of the unlikely outcome when Department of Health, Education and Welfare staff member Bill Riddick (Thaddaeus Edwards) placed two of Durham's most polarizing figures—Klansman C.P. Ellis (Derrick Ivey) and activist "Roughhouse" Ann Atwater (Lakeisha Coffey)—in charge of a citizens commission on public schools in the 1970s.

It's still a challenging show to watch; the script crackles with venomous racial invective and physical menace. Under Joseph Megel's direction, the trio above gives this work its propulsion, while Elisabeth Lewis Corley captures the desperation of Ellis' wife, Mary.

But the main thing we've learned since Enemies' first iteration is how, given the shattered map of our polis, this chronicle feels less like history lesson than a course on current events—or, one fears, coming attractions.

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