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The Best Of Enemies

By Gary Wien

(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- "There's a lot of hate here," said Ann Atwater, an African-American civil rights activist in Durham, North Carolina around 1971. Ann is one of the central characters in Mark St. Germain's "The Best of Enemies" play. The others include C.P. Ellis, a Grand Cyclops of the KKK, and Bill Riddick, a community organizer who attempts to bring the pair together during the desegregation of the Durham schools. It's a remarkable story about racial tension, changing times, and the goodness that is in all of us. Best of all, it's a true story.

I've seen a lot of plays in my life. Some were good, some not so good, and some were damn near perfect. It's rare that I see a play that I'd really say was as IMPORTANT as this one. Running now through December 23rd at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, this play tears down the wall that hides one of America's darkest periods. I'd love to see high schools and junior highs from throughout the state get the opportunity to see this play because it shows history that isn't taught -- recent history, the kind that should matter the most to us, yet is never brought up.

"The Best of Enemies" has a nice brisk pace, outstanding acting, and utilizes multimedia well to show various locations throughout Durham. The play begins with Riddick (played by Don Guillory) in the auto garage owned by C.P. Ellis (John Bedford Lloyd). It's hard to tell if Riddick is extremely brave facing off against a KKK leader or simply a fool. When he later meets Ann Atwater (Aisha Hinds), it's clear she believes he is the latter.

"You think you're Jesus Christ coming into town on Palm Sunday," said Atwater. "But I think you're the ass he rode on!"

Eventually Riddick is able to get both of them to be co-sponsors of a town meeting geared toward saving the schools. For Atwater, that means providing the same education for blacks as the white kids receive. For Ellis, that means keeping the two as far apart as possible.

As Ellis and Atwater spend more and more time working together, they learn that the other isn't nearly as different as they think. Germain does a wonderful job showing how easy it is to hate what you don't know and how difficult it is to keep that hatred after you get to know the person. The two suffer personally due to the meetings. The KKK members, who Ellis believed were his friends, begin to hate him for working with Atwater and business at his garage drops substantially. Meanwhile, Atwater, who quit her job a few weeks before Riddick came to town, struggles to find work and put food on the table for her children.

Throughout the situation, both sort of resent Riddick for changing their views. Ellis can sense the world he knew is changing around him and he doesn't know if he'll be able to adapt. Atwater believes Riddick cares more about his own reputation than fixing the schools. In the end, both Atwater and Ellis put their kids ahead of their own prejudices. In Ellis' case, that lesson was learned by his wife Mary (played by Susan Wands), an interesting woman who married C.P. when she was very young and who would later despise his time at the KKK.

There are a few climatic moments at the end that will bring a tear to your eye; those rare moments in which you cry not because you're sad, but because you've just witnessed something so truly beautiful.

"The Best of Enemies" was inspired by the best-selling novel of the same name by Osha Gray Davidson. The play is directed by Julianne Boyd, the Artistic Director of Barrington Stage Company, who brought the original cast of the play's 2011 production to George Street. Ironically, the play wasn't even supposed to be part of this season's lineup. It was actually a late replacement for "Clever Little Lies" which was supposed to star Marlo Thomas. When Thomas was offered a reoccurring role on the television show, "The New Normal", George Street decided to postpone the production. After some maneuvering, George Street was able to bring the entire production of "The Best of Enemies" to town.

The play is the first production to take place on the Arthur Laurents Stage. George Street officially named its main stage after the late playwright on November 30. In a nice touch, the theatre has invited New Brunswick first responders who helped out during Hurricane Sandy to see performances throughout the play's run. A couple of New Brunswick firemen were in the audience and stood to receive a nice ovation from the crowd.

"It's the heroes among us that prove their mettle in times of crisis like this," said George Street's Artistic Director David Saint. While he was talking about the first responders, his words could easily have been for Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis as well -- true American heroes that will inspire you.

Photos by T. Charles Erickson

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Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Celebrating their 10th season, Pebble Players has been entertaining Summit residents and audiences from surrounding towns with sophisticated Off-Broadway quality performances. The 2018 Season opens with "Heathers The Musical: High School Edition," directed by Jayne Myers and choreographed by Jaimie Woodruff.  Performances are Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday, November 18 at 2:00pm. 
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
(OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ) --  A family musical that’s perfect for the holiday season, “Peter Pan” is flying onto the Axelrod stage December 8-16. Axelrod’s award-winning Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program presents one of Broadway’s timeless classics in a fully staged production directed by Lisa Goldfarb with musical direction by Randy Hurst and choreography by Wendy Roman.  

Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!
"It's a Blast!" Go See Rock of Ages 10th Anniversary Tour NOW! at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino!
The five-time Tony award-nominated Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, returns to the stage with a 10th Anniversary Tour at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino! Performed in the venue’s ultra-modern Sound Waves theater, Rock of Ages runs from now until November 4, 2018.
There's One In Every Family: "Charley's Aunt" at The Shakespeare Theatre
On stage now through November 18 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, “Charley’s Aunt” is described as “part Oscar Wilde, part ‘Fawlty Towers,’ with a dash of South American spice!” This side-splitting British farce from 1892 has drag, mistaken identity, romance and plenty of physical comedy. Join Jesse and Dave at rehearsals in Florham Park to hear from the cast and director what makes this such a hilarious and enduring show.

Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm


PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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