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Attack Underscores Play's Message

Janet Langhart Cohen and her husband, former secretary of defense Bill Cohen, attend an event in New York in 2004. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)

Janet Langhart Cohen spent Wednesday morning preparing for the world premiere of her first play, "Anne & Emmett." More than 400 people -- including World War II survivors and veterans of the civil rights movement -- were expected to attend the event at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum that night.

Then terror struck.

"Everything was so surreal," the former broadcaster told us yesterday. "I went from opening-night jitters to murder at the museum. I couldn't believe it had happened. It was like a bad dream: A white racist killed a black man at a Jewish shrine. It is just so sad."

Her one-act play is an imaginary conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till, teenage victims of anti-Semitism and racism, respectively. "Her diary impacted me so much as a young, 15-year-old girl myself," said Cohen, who spent three years researching and writing the play, targeted especially at middle school and high school students.

Cohen was headed to the museum Wednesday afternoon for the final rehearsal when she got a call from her husband, former defense secretary Bill Cohen, who was waiting for her in the lobby when the gunman attacked. He called to say he was unharmed, but she wasn't allowed in the crime scene and he couldn't leave for hours, until police had interviewed the witnesses.

The play's premiere was canceled, although a previously scheduled performance will go on tonight at George Washington University on what would have been Frank's 80th birthday. Cohen's first theatrical effort has become, ironically, newsworthy overnight.

"It's important that the message and moral of the play get out," she said. "They say 'the show will go on' and it will go on, but I'm not thinking about that now."

By The Reliable Source  |  June 12, 2009; 1:04 AM ET
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