Befriended by the Enemy
March 21-24, 2002
Co-created by Sandy Spieler and Esther Ouray with the HOBT company
Music by Bob Hughes, with David Harris and Laurie Witzkowski
First produced in 1993, Befriended by the Enemy played to full houses, critical raves and won the prestigious UNIMA-USA Citation of Excellence Award. It is the true story of Larry Trapp, who was a grand dragon in the Ku Klux Klan, and the Weissers, the Jewish family who transformed his life.
In August 1991, Michael and Julie Weisser did an extraordinary thing: they began returning Trapp’s messages of hatred with disarming questions and offers of assistance. What follows is a remarkable story that demonstrates the miraculous power of divine inspiration in the hard, everyday struggle of human forgiveness.
Featuring Bunraku-style puppets, larger-than-life puppets and original music.
Befriended by the Enemy Simple, Grand
If the air of frenzied festivity mocks the lack of spirit you feel inside, perhaps you should seek something of humble origin, such as In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater's radiant production of Befriended by the Enemy.
You'll emerge moved by the power of the straightforward story and inspired by one family's success at turning a violent situation into a loving one.
Created and directed by Sandy Spieler and Esther Ouray, this tale is based on the true story of Michael and Julie Weisser.
The Weisser family live in Lincoln, Neb., where Michael is a cantor at a synagogue. Julie (Laurie Witzkowski), Michael (David Harris) and their friend, Donna Polk (Vernell Wilson), a black woman, are terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan.
Befriended by the Enemy begins with a Klansman setting a cross afire on the Weisser's front lawn, as well as a horrific parade of anti-Semitic and racist propaganda floating in front of our eyes.
The instigator of these assaults is Larry Trapp (Graydon Kouri), the town's KKK Grand Dragon. A double amputee in a wheelchair, Larry compensates for his lack of mobility by using his voice to launch phone attacks on Donna and the Weissers.
At the end of their ropes, Michael and Julie decide to fight back. Before a service, Michael prays for an answer, which comes to him in the form of an awe-inspiring Angel (Esther Ouray), a blue-and-red apparition of such elegance and dignity that it makes the standard white-robed version seem pallid.
Undaunted by the dial-a-racist recorded diatribes, Michael starts leaving patient and loving messages on Larry's answering machine. There's a bit of impish humor in Michael's campaign, which makes it believably human.
Michael starts getting to Larry, who endures a nightmarish crisis of conscience, before reaching out to the Weissers for help. Befriended by the Enemy is kind of a Jewish "A Christmas Carol," with Larry turning from a violence-spewing hatemonger into a humbled man eager to show the world that his transformation is possible.
Not that the Weissers have it easy. Larry's blindness and disability require much care, and he's a vulgar, blunt man easily irritated and unused to a household filled with bickering teen-agers.
The brilliance of this simple show is that it does not sugarcoat the real stresses of having someone like Larry become a part of people's lives. Through the hurt and crudeness, however, a sweetness persists in Larry, which makes you understand why the Weissers saw his potential in the first place.
Amid the inspirational aspects of the story, there's also plenty of room for compassionate, comic moments, most of which concern Larry's zeal to make amends and right wrongs.
The show toys wonderfully with scale, having the main characters shrink and grow to suit the situation. One scene has a tiny Larry in a tiny wheelchair hurrying up and down an urbanscape, racing to undo the damage he's done. Another lovely scene shows Larry and Julie tootling across the stage on a miniature train, the smallness underscoring the intimacy of the moment. Things grow grand in the epiphany of the closing scene, where Larry's transformation is complete, and he finally joins the family of man.
Jayne M. Blanchard
St. Paul Pioneer Press
November 23, 1993
UNIMA-USA Citation of Excellence Award
Since 1975 UNIMA-USA has awarded Citations of Excellence (the "UNI") that recognize and reward the best of the puppetry arts in this country. In addition to encouraging worthy puppeteers, the goal of the Citations program is to provide credible recognition that will aid puppeteers as they seek audiences in this country and abroad. The Citations are awarded to shows that touch their audiences deeply; that totally engage, enchant and enthrall. In meeting the criteria for excellent puppetry, Citation-worthy shows must also stand as prime examples of excellent theatre.
UNIMA-USA retains a committee of approximately 40 reviewers throughout North America. Reviewers submit nominations on the basis of performances they have seen during the year. Shows receiving enough nominations are awarded an UNIMA-USA Citation of Excellence in the Art of Puppetry.
Not by the Sword by Kathryn Watterson
Northeastern University Press · ISBN 155 553 4716
"Kathryn Watterson's Not by the Sword is a chilling, finally thrilling account of a vicious American Nazi's jouney from hate to regeneration through the efforts of a concerned Jewish family. This book is a must read for those who may doubt the possibilities of love." -Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
Texas Houston Chronicle Magazine, December 6, 1992. This was the article that first inspired our production of Befriended by the Enemy.
"The Cantor and the Klansman," Time, February 17, 1992.
"Living with the Enemy," People Magazine, June 1, 1992.