Emerson enters in dialogue with historic martyrs

by Beacon Staff • April 9, 2008

Anne Frank died at Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp, in early March, 1945. She was 15 years old. Emmett Till died of a bullet wound to the head. He was found in Mississippi's Tallahatchie River in late August, 1955. He was 14 years old. Though Anne and Emmett never met in life, they endure a bitterly poignant bond. Frank and Till were both teen victims of institutional prejiduce.

Frank and Till share an imaginary conversation in Janet Langhart Cohen's most recent project, a one-act play entitled, Anne and Emmett. Cohen is an Emmy-nominated journalist and television personality. She is the first to draw parallels between the lives of these teens within a performance.

Directed by Emerson Performing Arts Professor Robbie McCauley, Anne and Emmett is both an exploration in diversity and a reminder that racism still plagues the world. McCauley has a thirst for controversy and social change in works of drama, and wasn't surprised when Dr. William Smith of Emerson's Center for Diversity approached her with the Anne and Emmett vision in the fall of 2007.

"It spoke to me because I'm so interested in uses of information in drama, and this script spoke directly to that," McCauley said in an interview. This project will only augment McCauley's 35 year career in the performing arts field. Within those years, she has received variosu accolades for theater, including Audelco, Bessie and OBIE awards.

In addition to teaching acting courses, McCauley makes a serious habit of directing student casts at Emerson.

"What I like about the Emerson Performing Arts Department is the practicum. It is essential and that's rare," she said.

Most notably, McCauley directed Emerson Stage production, A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White in February 2007. McCauley is ecstatic to see Anne and Emmett in motion.

Though details about Cohen's staged reading are exclusive and invitation-only, McCauley said that her partnership with the author is "a good match." "What's most exciting for the director is to work with the writer," said McCauley.

Cohen's script was first published in February 2007, as part of the collective memoirs of both Cohen and husband, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. The memoirs, titled Love in Black and White, document religion, race and their effects upon the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Cohen.

Auditions for the April reading were held in March, and open to both college and high school students within the Boston community. Sophomore BFA musical theater major Krista Buccellato is cast as Frank. Elyas Harris of the Boston Arts Academy is set to play the young Till.

The reading is scheduled during Holocaust Remembrance month and follows in the wake of the fortieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination--haunting compliments to bolster the message of the work.

In describing the reading, McCauley said, "It's circular, and it's drama that reflects information."

Though the tragedies of Frank and Till occurred more than a half-century ago, the ignorance that perfected these murders still exists. The reading exposes what ignorance can do, and what it can take away. Specifically, it steals the young and gifted lives of Frank and Till. Anne and Emmett aims to tell us why.

Cohen and her husband will attend the first reading of Anne and Emmett at Emerson's Semel Theatre today.