Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 3, 2011

The Best of Enemies

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
October 5 – 16, 2011
by Shera Cohen

Based on the fact that Mark St. Germain is the playwright is reason enough to make a point of attending “The Best of Enemies.” St. Germain’s “Freud’s Last Session” was such a phenomenal hit at Barrington that it has moved to off-Broadway. The same may soon be said about “Enemies.”

Photo by Kevin Sprauge
The play is a true story of life in Durham, NC in the early 1970’s when the divisions between races and classes were not simple lines in the sand, but high stone walls – unable to be climbed or torn down. Color and money dictated government and particularly the school system. The story’s focus is the relationship between Ann Atwater, a hard-core elderly black woman whose only fears are the future of children, and E.P. Ellis, a strong and purposeful man who is proud of his Klan membership. The two are complete opposites in every way possible: sex, race, age. But are they? Perhaps it is their economic status that very slowly chips at the wall.

Aisha Hinds and John Bedford Lloyd are superb in their roles. Clifton Duncan, as the young black mediator of the ongoing conflict, and Susan Wands, as Ellis’ down trodden intelligent wife, are the only other actors in this quartet. Both are strong in their roles.

So much is said with a small cast and sparse set. In fact, more would have been ineffective. Julianne Boyd directs “Enemies” in vignettes created by large slide backdrops floating in and out. At many points, particularly when the actors speak out to assemblies, the audience feels that it is part of a documentary, and not theatre attendees. The play runs 90-minutes. Thank goodness for no intermission, as it not only would have broken the chronological momentum, but more importantly, the visceral experience. How much more “real” can theatre feel?

Barrington Stage is one of the few theatres that dares to present some tough drama during each of its summer seasons. Music and comedy are the norm. Obviously, audiences accept the challenge of serious and actual events, which is why “Enemies” will be staged for an unexpected return in October.