Anne and Emmett are introduced rather like "Dorothy's visit to Munchkin Land," sort of "dropped in" some unfamiliar and strange place. They question each other's presence in this unknown universe and their interaction begins their exploration of the circumstances of their lives and particularly of their deaths. Coming from completely different worlds, cultures and times in history seem to offer no reasonable way for these two young people to communicate. But it is precisely the art and effort of communication that Langhart-Cohen employs to unleash the drama and senseless tragedy of these two disparate lives.
The curiosity of their circumstance spurs them to begin a dialogue, which is at first introductory and informational--just getting to know one another. The more they exchange the more emerges about the comparisons of their lives and the distinctions. They share the fear of knowing their lives are in danger simply because they are different. They explore the anxiety of having to suppress their natural inclinations just to survive and they share the frustration of being young people, forced much too soon, to deal with the cruel indignities that life can present, again, because of being different.
The disparities we see are pointed out by Emmett that even though she is Jewish, in America, all Anne would have to do is a simple name change to be included among the white race. While Anne doesn't fully grasp Emmett's hesitancy to be more intimate in their exchange--the very reason that he was murdered. These moments are powerful and intense and the actors are fully up to the challenge of interpreting these dicey truths. Anne and Emmett contemplate this place called "memory" that has brought them together and together conclude that truth is timeless and memory fades and therefore their collaboration in this space has to be taken full advantage of so that their voices can be recognized and heeded.
An ambitious undertaking to say the least and I am sure a seemingly daunting task as the project developed, but an excellent example of how bringing just the right components into play can create a substantive, thought-provoking, and yes, entertaining presentation. And that is what "Anne & Emmett" is—an evening of exciting, disturbing and mind-bending theatre that grabs your attention by the sheer audacity of its premise and then skillfully persuades you to seriously regard it.
Andrea Green as Anne is easily imaginable as the young, spirited, but conflicted Jewess. At first sight I thought that Charlie Hudson, III, who portrays Emmett, was not convincing as a 14-year-old, but in reality part of Emmett's profile was that he came across as an "older" young man by the way he dressed and particularly his fondness for hats. With that in mind, the actor soared in capturing the spirit and pathos of the ill-fated young hero whose plight catapulted the Civil Rights Movement. Kelly Taffe heartbreakingly renders Emmett's mother, Mamie. And then, there is Roger Grunwald. He exhibits a Meryl Streep-like ability to shift from one character to another without a trace as Anne's father, Otto and the Southern Ku Klux Klanner and one of Emmett's murderers, J.W. Milam. A truly remarkable portrayal!
The design team: Maya Ciarrocchi (Multi-media Designer); Maruti Evans (/Set & Light Designer); Ien DeNio (Sound Design) and Michael Murray (Costume Designer) pulled together a seamless platform on which this story could be convincingly and intriguingly told. It was as if their efforts melded into one mind and soul to create the "land of memory." Bravo!
Finally, there is the director, Talvin Wilks. I can only imagine the Mount Everest of challenges he faced in having to visualize all of this and make it real and imaginable. He succeeds immeasurably and the audience is the better served because of his artistry and brilliance. I could truly see this show on Broadway.
Any doubts the author had about her ability as a playwright only need to be channeled in producing her next work. The magic of memory, indeed!