The Agitators – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park is offering theater goers a unique opportunity until Sunday, June 12 to make the acquaintance of two pioneers of our American history who devoted their entire lives to the cause of human rights for the newly freed slaves and for women who were subservient to their husbands, neither group being allowed the fundamental privilege of having the right to vote. Playwright Mat Smart has fashioned a fascinating tale of the unlikely friendship of former slave Frederick Douglass who taught himself to read and write, believing “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom,” and suffragette Susan B. Anthony, born a Quaker, who devoted her days and nights to securing women their basic rights.

Both individuals were ignited by the spark of change and united their causes to reach the heights together. While they could easily have been adversaries, they became allies. While they could have been enemies, they became friends. Both were outspoken activists and abolitionists, banning together to secure voting rights for slaves and for women. They didn’t allow racial bias to overshadow gender bias and supported an unusual friendship that lasted almost five decades.

Gabriel Lawrence is a powerful Frederick Douglass who urges Sam Rosentrater’s determined Susan B. Anthony to join forces for the cause of freedom. Especially today when the right to vote is under attack and presidential results are being questioned it is imperative that we follow these shapers of American history. Do we not deserve a country that is for all our citizens? What would it feel like to not have a voice guaranteed for every color and shade of our population? We need to be able to cast ballots together side by side, without fear of retribution.

Douglass and Anthony tirelessly crisscrossed the country garnering support for amendments fifteen and nineteen, uniting in their mutual causes. Even though Douglass felt his fight came first, he eventually gave his support to the women’s movement in their fierce fires of rebellion. Together they shared thunder and light, Anthony even getting arrested for voting illegally. Their story is illuminating and enlightening, in the era before and after the American Civil War, from 1849 to 1895, from Rochester, New York to Albany, to Boston, New York City and Washington, DC. Kelly O’Donnell directs this engaging encounter from the past that still echoes and reverberates in our actions today.

For tickets ($37.50-$50), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or online at playhouseonpark.org. Performances are Tuesday at 2 p.m., Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Masks are strongly encouraged.

Watch a time in history come dramatically alive as these fine actors reenact their struggles and alliances for a truly worthy cause.

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