Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: THE AGITATORS: Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass at The Forum Theatre

The Agitators has only four performances left, with shows this week Thursday, May 27, through Sunday, May 30, 2021.

BWW Review: THE AGITATORS: Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass at The Forum Theatre

This is the first time I've sat in a theatre since COVID19 took that privilege away in March 2020. It felt weird and wonderful all at the same time. Masks are optional at the Forum Theatre. Patrons I chatted with in the lobby were thrilled to finally get out and are feeling confident enough to spend a few hours communing in a darkened room with their fellow humans. This is the perfect play to do just that. The Agitators answers the dramaturgical question, "Why this play, now?" Poignant, compelling, and beautifully wrought by the cast and crew, The Agitator is must see theatre.

The Agitators, written by Mat Smart, first premiered at the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York on October 21, 2017. It is the story of a forty-five-year friendship between two inimitable allies, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass. Longtime family friends in Rochester, NY, in the 1840s, they endure a long-time battle for the Abolition of Slavery, the writing of the 15th Amendment, and agitating for voting rights for both African Americans and Women. The Agitators shows us the imagined struggle of the leadership that helped shape the Constitution and the course of American history.

The lights go down and the first thing we hear is "THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED." This is a spoken word work by Gil Scott-Heron from his 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, and was a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the United States. The second thing we hear is "THIS IS AMERICA" by Childish Gambino, immediately followed by sounds of choking. "I CAN'T BREATHE!" What follows is a luxurious soundscape, reminiscent of Robert Glasper's Black Radio, with original compositions by Pianist Justin Hall and deftly played by a large jazz combo consisting of Dale Black on Bass, Leah Rosales on Violin, Ben Balleau on Cello, Tyler Frueh on Sax/Flute, Jake Conway on Sax/Clarinet, with live vocals by Alexander Ogurn, with Anjelica McCrae Breathett and Deontae Hayden making taped contributions. Kudos to Sound Designer Jesse Balzer for wrapping us up and holding us close during the journey.

The unit set, designed by Ben Juhnke and beautifully painted by Urza Silverwind, accommodated all the various settings very well. Placed inside the set was a scrim used for projections, designed by Ashley Hillman, which depicted the century plus struggle for racial equality and civil rights for Black Americans. The gorgeous lighting was also designed by Ben Juhnke, and period props were obtained by Beth Wise. Books, Douglass' violin, and water of all forms were dominant visual themes throughout the play. Period costumes by Kathryn Page Hauptman were historically accurate and well done.

There were so many great lines and moments in this play; snippets of speeches, like "Agitation is a spark..." There was a prayer for Harriet Tubman. Douglass kept on "looking for his song," which seemed like a possible nod to August Wilson's Joe Turner's come and gone, referencing the mystic root worker Bynum, who tells Herald Loomis he won't become spiritually whole until he finds "his song." Many of these individual speeches were absolutely moving and their delivery was as strong and sure as the actors delivering the material.

Aaron Profit (Frederick Douglass) and Chelsey Moore Ehresman (Susan B. Anthony) both turn in stunning performances as these legendary figures. There were no extant filmed materials for either actor to study physical aspects, so they had to rely on the words of the author and historical accounts. Profit as Douglass is in turns fiery and gentle, switching deftly from an impassioned speech to an intimate conversation during Douglass' lowest point after his wife's death. Ehresman exhibits Anthony's stoic strength in a very real way, showing so much emotional restraint until she bursts forth with an argument not so much steeped in anger or tears, but in real urgency and passion. Having worked together in many productions, both actors have a natural chemistry that make them perfect for these roles. Direction from Kathy Page Hauptman is strong, with seamless blocking, great pacing, and memorable stage pictures.

This is thoughtful theatre with a smart aesthetic. After Douglass' house is burned down, he tells Anthony "We are looking at the same things from two different sets of eyes. Try to see as I see..." The work of Douglass and Anthony was carried forward by the late Civil Rights agitator John Lewis, who, in the late 1960's, and throughout his career in Congress, advocated for "good trouble." We are still agitating for these rights today. This play belongs in every auditorium and gymnasium of every high school in Kansas.

The Agitators has only four performances left, with shows this week Thursday, May 27, through Sunday, May 30, 2021. The show begins at 8pm and runs until 10:30pm, 2:30pm on Sunday. The show runs around 115 mins with a 15-minute intermission. Bring some extra cash to get an amazingly fresh and delicious homemade dessert by Mari Dimattia at intermission.

Shows are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm. Prices are $23 for Thursday evenings and Sunday matinees, $25 for Friday and Saturday evenings. You can find links for tickets on the Forum Theatre Facebook page, on the Forum Theatre Website https://ci.ovationtix.com/36031/production/1040209?fbclid=IwAR0CADKFR3iUhQY-YyuDBtU1z2cN2GQZpBVfptwKY1piBoO-tU_LknnCg3w, or by calling the theatre directly at (316) 618-0444. Season information is also available on their Facebook page and website. Various packages are available, starting at only $80.

The Forum Theatre is located at 330 N Broadway, Entrance CD, Wichita, Kansas 67218. Make sure to turn right at the corner and turn right again into the parking lot!

During her curtain speech, Artistic Director Kathryn Page Hauptman said the theatre was given a donation of $10,000 from a local individual, asking that the donation be matched by the Forum's audience, for a total of $30,000. You can donate online at forumtheatre.org, by calling 316-618- 0444, or by mail at P.O Box 21380, Wichita, KS 67208.

Enter Your Article Text Here!


Related Articles View More Wichita Stories

NOS Dance

From This Author Paula Makar