One-Act play at Dusable shines new light on two familiar stories

Staff Writer

This September, journalist and author Janet Langhart Cohen is bringing her one-act play, entitled “Anne and Emmett,” to the Dusable Museum of African American History, 740 E 56th Pl. The play retraces the histories of Anne Frank and Emmett Till as they recount to one another their experiences of oppression.

To some, the coupling of Frank and Till may seem odd, to say the least. To Cohen, however, the decision to combine these two stories came naturally through her exploration of the commonalities of oppression.

“I’ve never thought of Anne Frank as being white, but of being oppressed,” Cohen said over the phone. “Both [Frank and Till] lived in societies that couldn’t and wouldn’t protect them. They look very different, but when you look at the tactics of their oppressors, there are so many things that connected them.”

Since its conception, “Anne and Emmett” has been shown all over the United States. However, it was on the night of its Washington, D.C., premiere, that, for Cohen, the play’s timelessness became apparent.

On June 10, 2009, while Cohen made her way to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the site of her play’s premiere, a white supremacist entered the museum and opened fire on a Black security officer, who later died from his injuries.

“When that horrible incident happened, it sort of affirmed the path that I was on,” Cohen said. “Yes, this mission is not accomplished if a Neo-Nazi can walk into a museum and kill a Black person. The intolerance, and the hatred still live.”

Cohen explained that every production of the play is slightly different.
“I update it to touch on recent headlines,” Cohen said.

Cohen acknowledges that with occurrences of police violence erupting throughout the country, she has plenty to draw from.

With director Thomas Jones’ rendition of “Anne and Emmett” this September at the Dusable Museum, the audience will see the new addition of music to the play. Cohen relayed that Jones’ use of music was one of the things that originally drew her to ask him if he’d direct her play.

“Thomas Jones is a genius,” Cohen exclaimed. “I fell in love with what he did with movement and music.”

After attending one of Jones’ productions, Cohen slipped him a message.
“I asked him if he would please just read my script and, if he liked it, direct it.”

Cohen’s plea was well received, Jones agreed to direct the play, and now Chicago audiences can expect a dynamic and original production of “Anne and Emmett.”

Performances of “Anne and Emmett” run from Sept. 25 through Sept. 27. Contact the Dusable Museum for ticket information and show times.