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'Best of Enemies' in Burbank: Racial fireworks explode from the stage

'Best of Enemies' in Burbank: Racial fireworks explode from the stage
Tiffany Rebecca Royale and Larry Cedar star in "The Best of Enemies" at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. (Michael Lamont)

Two weeks remain to catch "The Best of Enemies" in its West Coast premiere at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. The production is mandatory viewing for anyone who values the stage's ability to provoke thought about serious social issues.

The subject here is race relations in 1971 Durham, N.C., which playwright Mark St. Germain captures with vivid detail. His narrative — incredibly, a true story — opens with a red-robed Klansman at a meeting. C.P. Ellis (Larry Cedar, never better) is a devout Exhalted Cyclops of the KKK, prone to outrageously offensive slurs and opinions.

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Enter perpetually irate Ann Atwater (the excellent Tiffany Rebecca Royale), an African American woman demanding to see the mayor. She's a grass-roots civil rights activist and nobody you'd want to mess with.

These polar opposites interface with federal mediator Bill Riddick (effective Shon Fuller), dispatched to integrate Durham 15 years after Brown v. Board of Education, and with careworn Mary (affecting Holly Hawkins), C.P.'s long-suffering wife.

When C.P. and Ann find themselves co-chairing the community organization that Bill proposes, fireworks ensue. However, nobody is as cut-and-dried as they appear, with C.P. and Ann's mutual path to understanding surprising yet believable and finally very moving.

Credit St. Germain, whose script starts out a bit choppy but grows in substance just as its characters do, and director David Rose, who lets no nuance go undetected. The designs are typical Colony solid, particularly Dave Mickey's invaluable sound and projections.

The cast is impeccable. Cedar's patented bonhomie is nowhere in sight as he goes for the racist jugular. Royale matches him beat for beat with a raucous slyness that recalls Gloria Foster. Fuller and Hawkins are no less invested.

Their interactions make "Enemies" a gripping play with an important theme.

"The Best of Enemies," Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 18. $25-$49. (818) 558-7000 ext. 15 or www.ColonyTheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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