Playwright Janet Langhart Cohen has crafted an intriguing work with Anne & Emmett, which brings together two seemingly disparate people from history, and then proceeds to show how similar their lives were. The Black Rep's current production is nicely conceived and executed, and features four fine performances. The message conveyed about racism, and its different guises, is an important one, and one not soon forgotten.
In the mists of memory Anne Frank and Emmett Till make each others acquaintance. As they begin to reveal themselves it becomes clear that they share a history where the topic of race is concerned. Anne Frank and her family kept themselves cloistered in a building in Holland until they were finally discovered by the Nazis and summarily sent to a concentration camp. While the young African American Till made the unfortunate decision to whistle at a white woman while visiting relations in the South. His perceived crime against nature netted him a brutal beating which left him dead. Both share their experiences and it becomes clear that both represent a vital and reprehensible part of our world's history.
Courtney Elaine Brown does strong work as Anne, and she plays the part with all the vim and vigor that one would expect from a young girl. Eric J. Connors is equally good as Emmett, and his playful behavior is indicative of the fourteen year old he portrays. Patrice McClain does exceptional work as Emmett's mother, Mamie, who refuses to accept the treatment her young charge received as punishment for his actions. Jerry Vogel is also sharp as Anne's father, and as a southern racist who heads up the brutalization that Emmett receives.
Director Ron Himes does solid work with this entertaining and informative piece. It is an interesting meetings of the minds, but it does belabor its point, even at a brisk 90 minutes. Jim Burkwinkel's scenic design deftly conjures up the image of someone's memory with drapes that extend from the ceiling, offering some nice diffused and muted lighting work by Kathy Perkins. The costumes of Daryl Harris are good matches for the characters and the eras they embody.
Anne & Emmett continues at the Grandel Theatre through November 4, 2012.