Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony battle for suffrage rights in 'The Agitators'

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- This year marks the 150th anniversary of African American men gaining the right to vote. Women's suffrage would take another 50 years, getting their turn in 1920. A new play, The Agitators, at Theatre Horizon in Norristown explores the question of who should come first in the battle for equal rights for all.

"The Agitators is a story about Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony," Director Cheyenne Barboza says.

It covers their 45-year relationship as colleagues, friends and adversaries.

"Frenemies we like to say," Barboza says, adding that one of the most impactful scenes is a reenactment of the famous debate between the two at Seneca Falls, "which really caused a rift in their relationship."

Anthony pushed for women's equality

"She was a powerhouse who was unwilling to break from her ideals," says Charlotte Northeast, who plays the role of Susan B. Anthony. "I think sometimes it was a good thing; sometimes not a great thing."

Douglass argued that in the wake of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the focus should be on race, not sex.

"Saying we have to get the black man's right to vote first and everyone else will follow suit," Barboza says.

"It really affected their friendship and scored out the rest of what we see in their history," Northeast says.

"And also cemented Susan as kind of this person that the black community is very wary of," Barboza points out.

"There's falling out. It's reconciliation," says Steve Wright, who plays Douglass.

"And so it becomes this push and pull of these two incredible thinkers," Northeast adds.

The goal of the play is to explore the history of oppression in the battle for equality for all.

"They were human; they made choices," Barboza says. "But can we learn from the past? Did the ends justify the means? And who was put in the backseat for the good of the cause?"

"This is a very American story," Wright says, adding that the show explores the issue from the perspective of both women's rights and African American rights. "Let's have a conversation."

Theater Horizon: The Agitators | Buy tickets
Through March 22, 2020
401 DeKalb St, Norristown, PA 19401
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