by Rita Charleston
He never planned on a theatrical career, but thanks to his wife, Ann, and a love for radio from years ago, that’s exactly where Michael Tamin Yurcaba finds himself today. He’s currently appearing as C.P. Ellis, a North Carolinian who served as exalted cyclops of a KKK chapter in “Best of Enemies,” running at Allens Lane every weekend through January starting on Jan. 16.
The play, written by Mark St. Germain and inspired by Osha Gray Davidson’s book of the same name, is the story of an unlikely friendship that develops between Ellis and Ann Atwater, a civil rights activist in Durham, N.C. in the 1970s. Eventually the two forge an alliance based on respect and trust in a modern-day parable of transformation and triumph for civil rights.
“I was delighted to get this role,” says the 60-something Yurcaba, “although I’ll admit then when I first read the script, I wasn’t quite sure. Ellis was a racist, and so the language he uses is very harsh, very brutal and, frankly, much more than I was used to. But the character eventually goes through a redemption, and that was what really attracted me to the role. And, being a true story, I was drawn to it.”
After the actor agreed to do the role, he adds that in order to spend that much time inhabiting a character such as Ellis, a great deal of research was required. And through the research on this man, Yurcaba says he found himself even more drawn to the story. “There are wonderful elements to the story, and my hope is that we will be able to communicate that to the audience.”
His ability to communicate with the audience began with Yurcaba’s first role as Herbert Price in Celebration Theater’s production of “The Ghost Train.” Born and raised in central Pennsylvania, Yurcaba traveled around the country working in the cable construction field before moving to Philadelphia in the ’80s. He used to attend old-time radio conventions in the Newark, NJ, area for many years, enjoying some of the offerings by a few of the original performers.
“They used to ask for people to join in their reenactments, which I really wanted to do. That’s when my wife suggested if I auditioned for some community theaters in the area and get some practice, I might eventually be able to try out for some parts in the reenactments.”
Sensing she was absolutely right, Yurcaba began auditioning, not only getting his first role in “The Ghost Train” in 2003, but going on more and more auditions and getting cast in more and more shows, eventually appearing in as many as six shows a year, even overlapping them with as many as two shows at a time. In fact, he got so busy with community theater that every October when the radio convention held its auditions, Yurcaba was too busy to ever try out.
He may have missed that opportunity, but Yurcaba, who lives in Lansdowne, hasn’t missed many others. He’s appeared in countess local theaters. “I didn’t have the financial resources to pay for acting classes, so my training was mainly on the job, working with a collection of wonderful directors, including Nancy Kreider, who directs ‘Best of Enemies.’ And I will say that after all these years, I’m enjoying every moment I’m up on stage.”
Since man cannot live by community theater alone, Yorcaba was asked about his “day job.” His reply: “I don’t have a fulltime job, but I work on a contract basis, getting paid for film and commercial work, as well as some stage work, and teaching about computers at senior centers.”
Tickets to “Best of Enemies” are $20 with reservations or $25 at the door. More information at 215-248-0546 or www.allenslane.org.