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The Agitators ~ Mosaic Theater Company

Jordan Wright
October 30, 2018 

People may forget who America’s early activists were, but in their day, women’s rights suffragist and Quaker, Susan B. Anthony, and African American abolitionist, Frederik Douglass, changed the course of history in this nation.  What do we know of their personal lives, their 45-year friendship, or their struggles to assure the freedom to vote for all Americans regardless of race or gender?  Through the lens of Mat Smart’s historically topical play I learned of the constant threats to their lives, the beatings, the shootings and the riots that ensued when they spoke about social justice and equality.  They were The Agitators and speaking out about injustice was their inspiration.  To this day, we hear the echoes of their struggle for justice.

Marni Penning as Susan B Anthony and Ro Boddie as Frederik Douglass – Photo credit Mosaics Stock.

Smart follows their friendship as they crisscross the country, often speaking at lecture halls on the same program.  Anthony, who fought fiercely for women’s rights to vote, and Douglass, who emerged from a life of slavery as one of the nation’s foremost abolitionists securing the right to vote for African-Americans.  Today, with the closure of numerous polling places in predominantly African-American districts and the discounting of their votes in Georgia and other states, it is clear that the fight for equality at the voting booth is far from over.

The play opens in 1849 at the Anthony family farm in Rochester, NY where the Anthony family welcomes Douglass into their sphere of influence.  The farm was a haven for abolitionists to share ideas and strategies for the movement and it’s where Douglass and Anthony solidified their friendship and their goals and where their collegial competition begins.  Over the decades they shared ideas and strategies, but the play’s drama is in the who will get to the finish line first.  Will it be Douglass in his struggle to end slavery and get Blacks the vote? Or Anthony, working with other suffragists to secure the vote for women?  Despite their victories, we are still fighting these same issues.

Marni Penning as Anthony and Ro Boddie as Douglass ~ Adanna Paul and Josh Adams ~ Photo credit Mosaic Stock

Director KenYatta Rogers takes us on their fraught journey with moments of raw tension juxtaposed with the power of faith guided by the ghosts of past injustices.  But it is the outstanding performances by Marni Penning as Anthony and Ro Boddie as Douglass as both allies and agitators that carry us borne aloft through a half-century of friendship based on mutual admiration and respect.

Costume Designer, Amy MacDonald, dresses Anthony in her signature red shawl (See the original at the National Museum of American History) with her iconic alligator handbag, and Douglass in his top hat is seen not far from his precious violin which gave him solace.  These important historical elements employed in both props and costumes are crucial emblems lending gravitas to every scene.

Timely and highly recommended.

With ensemble members Adanna Paul and Josh Adams.

Lighting by Alberto Segarra, Sound Design by David Lamont Wilson, Projections Design by James Morrison and Property Design by Emily Boisseau.

Through November 25th at the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts – 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.  For tickets info on post show discussions, special rates and discounts visit or call the box office at 202.399.7993 ext. 2.  Valet parking at 1360 H Street, NE.

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