HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Four actors will share a Civil Rights-era story that connects to the present in Bluff City Theater's production of "Best of Enemies," which opens Wednesday in Hannibal.
Inspired by Osha Gray Davidson's book of the same name, "Best of Enemies" tells the story of Ann Atwater, a vocal civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, an Exalted Grand Cyclops of the Klu Klux Klan, and their work to integrate schools in Durham, N.C., in the 1970s.Durham City Councilman Bill Riddick called upon Atwater and Ellis in 1971 to lead a charrette -- a series of public meetings -- to integrate Durham's schools, 14 years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional. To achieve integration, Atwater and Ellis were forced to collaborate, despite blinding hatred for each other.However, Atwater and Ellis learn there is common ground between them, and on it, they build friendship and a better future for Durham's children.New York City-based actor Felicia Dinwiddie, who plays Atwater, said "Best of Enemies" illustrates a divide that is still evident in 2016. She pointed to the recent police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., as well as the killing of five police officers in Dallas Friday."It's so relevant to what's happening today," Dinwiddie said by phone last week. "This happened 45 years ago, and it's still happening."Matthew S. Morgan, who plays Riddick, said he hopes the play, directed by Jennifer Stewart, will spark conversation and action in Hannibal and beyond."People really don't react until they become the victim of things," he said. "We need to stop that sort of behavior. We need to have it out there. We need to talk about it."Lenny Bart of Quincy plays C.P. Ellis, and St. Louis actor Rosemary Watts plays Mary Ellis, C.P.'s wife. Watts said having Davidson's piece helped the actors breathe new life into their roles."The book has the history of Durham, the people, their growth," she said. "We had a lot of research that was available through the book.""Best of Enemies," which has strong language and situations, runs on select evenings through July 29. After-show discussions with the audience are planned for July 21 and July 28.Tickets are available by calling the BCT box office at 573-719-3226 or by visiting eventshannibal.com.