The play “Anne & Emmett” by Janet Langhart Cohen imagines an encounter between Anne Frank, the famous Holocaust victim and diarist who died in Bergen Belsen in 1945, and Emmett Till, the lynching victim whose murder in Mississippi in 1955 invigorated the African American Civil Rights movement.
Performed by the Cincinnati Black Theatre Company, and cosponsored by the Holocaust & Humanity Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Anne & Emmett runs from Feb. 28 through Mar. 8 at the Freedom Center. The director, Don Sherman, determined to bring this play to Cincinnati after seeing it during the biennial National Black Theatre festival in Winston-Salem, NC in 2017.
Sherman approached Sarah Weiss, CEO of the Holocaust and Humanity Center, who in turn brought in the Freedom Center. As part of their preparation for the play, the cast toured the Holocaust and Humanity Center. Weiss described bringing “Anne & Emmett” to Cincinnati as a great opportunity and added, “I hope it brings our communities together for conversations about what their lives meant and mean.”
The title characters, Anne and Emmett, were both young teens (15 and 14, respectively) when they were killed. In the play they meet in an afterlife called Memory; Anne, who had died a decade before Emmet and had been there for some time, explained that they would remain there as long as anyone remembered them. As the teens exchange their life stories, parallels are drawn between the prejudice and discrimination each experienced from the societies into which they had been born. They compare, for example, the curfews and “sundown laws” that restricted their movement and rather exuberantly exchange the terms of insult that they were called.
One parent of each teen, Emmett’s mother and Anne’s father, provide context to the constricted lives and premature deaths of their children. The dialogue between Anne and Emmett, which forms the bulk of the play, is framed by opening scenes in which each parent lectures their child about “knowing the rules” and closing scenes of the parent’s reaction to learning of their death.
The actors in the title roles, Courtney Flege as Anne and Jefferey Jackson as Emmett, carry this play. Flege, from Northern Kentucky, has been acting since the age of seven. A graduate of the Berea College music program, she has worked with the CBTC in previous productions. Jackson has also been acting since childhood, including a stint at Disney World. His other local credits include the 1-Minute Play Festival with the Know Theatre.
As the opening voice-over proclaims, “The struggle between good and evil has been going on for a long time – and it’s not likely to go away any time soon.” Anne & Emmett is a moving exploration of that struggle. It is, Sherman said, “a performance that touches everyone, across racial lines; it’s a play about humanity.”