Actress says ‘Enemies’ presents timely lessons
RoseMarie Trauschke, a Pearland resident performing in an area production of the explosive drama “Best of Enemies,” believes the show has timely lessons for today.
She portrays the long-suffering wife of a Ku Klux Klan leader whose opinions gradually change as he works with a black community activist.
“The play is amazing and very relevant to what’s going on today,” Trauschke said. “We are living in forward times, but there is always the chance that we could repeat history. I hope that people who see our play will take something from the experience that will enrich a lot of lives.”
“Best of Enemies” which plays Aug. 31 through Sept. 16, dares to find good in people on both sides of the issue of school desegregation in Durham, N.C. in 1971.
“It is as relevant today as the true story it is based on,” said director Gregory R. Brown, a 1974 graduate of South Houston High School who lives in the Pasadena area.
“A lot of the same issues are rearing their ugly heads again today,” said Brown, explaining that playwright Mark St. Germain based the show on Osha Gray Davidson’s 1996 best-selling book, “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South.”
Lanier Young of La Porte plays C.P. Ellis, who begins the play as the Exalted Cyclops of the Durham Ku Klux Klan, a group that he believes fosters “love for our country and families.”
Trauschke’s character, Mary Ellis, resents the time that her husband spends away from home while she cares for their children.
“Lighting crosses is a symbol of our faith in Jesus Christ, the Light of the World,” C.P. Ellis tells Ann Atwater, a bitter black civil rights activist in Durham. She is portrayed by Tara G. Brown of Houston, who recently donned a straw-colored wig to play an “Alfred Hitchcock blonde” in Patrick Barlow’s “The 39 Steps” at PLT.
Both Ellis and Atwater initially resist pressure by a community organizer, Bill Riddick, to work together to create programs that address racial issues in schools through a process called a “charrette.”
“It’s French for meetings between people of different points of view to come to an understanding, and we keep meeting ’til they do,” explains Riddick, played by Trey Morgan Lewis. In this year’s Black History Month production at the Pearl Theater, “Miss Evers’ Boys,” Lewis played Hodman, an Alabama tenant farmer, in David Feldshuh’s fictionalized account of the notorious Tuskegee Study in the 1930s.
Riddick’s goal is to show Ellis and Atwater that, despite the difference in their skin color, the two share an important characteristic — both are poor.
“It doesn’t matter what race you are, there is classism within the races,” Brown said. “We’re all the same. The play is less about race and more about classism. That didn’t quite hit me until we got into the rehearsal process.”
As RoseMarie Green (her maiden name), Trauschke advanced to national competitions in speech and debate while a student at Friendswood High School, where she graduated in 1996.
“We debated topics from the political climate of the time,” she said. “I always look for shows to be in that have a social conscience.”
Young said his character “blames Jews, Catholics and blacks” for his situation as a father desperately trying to fend for his family.
“He changes his mind about black people when he meets Ann Atwater,” Young said. “We change our opinion of people when we get to know them. It’s something I began learning 10 or 15 years ago. You don’t get anywhere by talking ‘at’ someone. There is no convincing anyone about the death penalty or gay marriage or anything until you get to know them.”
“’Best of Enemies’ exposes the poison of prejudice in the hearts of Atwater and Ellis,” Brown said. “By facing each other, they are forced to face the worst, and the best, in themselves.”
Leslie Barrera is the assistant director for “Best of Enemies.” The stage manager is Ann Dolbee, production design is by Zach Varela and Me Sheridan is the show’s prop mistress.
The director and cast will participate in a post-show discussion with the audience on Sept. 13.
Don Maines is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org