Theatre Review: The Agitators (Theatre Horizon)

Sometimes when a prospective audience member reads about a play and sees that it is a two hour play with only two actors and that it is about history, he or she may not see the attraction.  I’m here to tell you that The Agitators now playing at Theatre Horizon is the farthest thing from boring.  Penned by Mat Smart it recounts the friendship between Susan B. Anthony, the name most associated with suffrage and the nineteenth amendment, and Frederick Douglass, who was the face of the abolition movement and the leader of the Civil Rights movement in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Director Cheyenne Barboza has cleverly staged this conversation that took place over 45 years.  She has extracted from these two titans of history their humanity.  She shares their triumphs, fears, and hopes.  Barboza exposes their sacrifices, their disappointments and their overwhelming respect for each other despite sometimes disagreeing on strategies.

Director Barboza is ably assisted in this amazing production by Marie Laster’s set which is both striking and incredibly functional, Elliot Konstant’s nuanced lighting design, and Janus Stefanowicz’s period costuming.  Chris Sannino’s affecting sound design is enhanced by his original music that complements the story telling. All involved in the production deserve credit for bringing their A game. Lies in

The energy driving this production is the two fabulous actors who inhabit the characters Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.  As Douglass, Steven Wright proffers an incredibly layered performance.  He captures Douglass’s power, sensitivity, and insecurity.  We see the Douglass behind the giant we learn about in history.  Susan B. Anthony is rendered by one of the areas finest actresses, Charlotte Northeast.  Her ability to nail the myriad emotions of the famous suffragette is many times done with a look, a gesture.  It is the very definition of a nuanced performance. Together they capture this long-standing union of kindred spirits.  In this time of continued fights for racial and gender equality as well as the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, The Agitators is an important vehicle to fulfill Douglass’s quote, “we have to do with the past only as we make it useful to the present and the future.”

The Agitators runs until March 22nd.  For information and tickets call 610.283.2230 or check their website www.TheatreHorizon.org

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