On Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m., the D.J. Lombardo Student Center’s Marinello Little Theatre will welcome a new play to its stage. Former JCU education professor Mary Weems’ “A Conversation After A Funeral” is about Anne Frank and Emmett Till, two iconic historical figures, speaking after Till’s funeral about contemporary issues of injustice.
The idea for the play came to Weems through a conversation with the artistic director of Karamu House theater, Terrence Spivey.
“He casually asked me what would happen if Anne Frank and Emmett Till ever met,” said Weems.
Weems immediately had an image of Frank carrying her original diary into Till’s church and sitting in the front pew during the funeral.
“I carried that image around with me for two years,” said Weems. “And then one morning, the play came to me like most of my plays, whole like a baby.”
The play came to JCU through Richard Clark, Director of the Peace, Justice and Human Rights program, which is sponsoring the production. Clark, after hearing about the play through colleagues, reached out to Weems and organized a showing at JCU.
“I thought the idea of Anne Frank showing up at Emmett Till’s funeral was genius. It certainly fits into the idea of peace, justice and human rights and enhancing human dignity,” said Clark.
The play premiered in January 2013 at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, and was their featured event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day last year. The play won the African American Playwrights Exchange Best New Play of 2013.
Weems said she made the play youth-friendly.
“Theater is an entertaining way to educate. It introduces kids to something early on that they can explore later,” said Weems. “In K-12 education today, there is still very little emphasis put on the issues that are raised in this play – racism, religious intolerance and classism.”
The play has two characters, and because Weems wrote the play for a younger audience, the play does not last longer than a class period. Weems believes it will help people think more compassionately about those who are and have been discriminated against, and also to see the common ground that everyone shares.
“From my perspective, too much diversity-based programming focuses on the differences, but I believe it’s important to begin with all the things we have in common and then move from there. This play helps you to do that,” said Weems.
“A Conversation After A Funeral” will be touring between now and April. It was at Hathaway Brown in Shaker Heights on Feb. 4 and Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio on Feb. 6. The Maltz Museum will be showing the play on Feb. 19, March 26 and April 23.
In terms of the John Carroll community seeing her play, Weems said, “I hope to get a deeper dialogue continued around issues of race and religion.”
She also specified that because JCU is a Jesuit university, the play ties in perfectly with the JCU mission of working together to promote social justice and caring for one another.
“What I’m hoping people get out of this is a desire to make sure these things don’t happen again, even if it’s just roommates treating each other nicer,” said Clark. “My hope is that people will leave with a sense of the dangers of treating people as less than fully human.”
Editor’s Note: Visit jcunews.com for the complete schedule of performances and locations of Weems’ play.