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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Coronavirus: Pioneers in women’s rights brought to life in Sturgeon Bay

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‘Susan & Elizabeth: A Friendship of Consequence’

Scene from “Susan & Elizabeth: A Friendship of Consequence” with Susan Kohout as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, left, and Chris Milton as Susan B. Anthony, performed Aug. 15, 2020. (Warren Gerds)

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Susan B. Anthony once was arrested, tried and convicted. She voted in a presidential election. At the time, 1872, American women were not allowed to vote.

For her defense, Susan B. Anthony brought up the Preamble to the Constitution. “It was ‘We the people,’ not ‘We the white male population’,” she told the court in her hometown, Rochester, New York.

Chris Milton as Susan B. Anthony. (Warren Gerds)

A recounting of the episode is part of the unique play, “Susan & Elizabeth: A Friendship of Consequence,” being performed as part of a special series of performances.

In ways, it is a modest play and production – two costumed women, words transmitted by radio frequency, a few set pieces on a trailer bed and a sequence of reminiscences.

In ways, the play is not modest at all – two firebrand women, major concepts, reminders of struggle against a tidal wave of opposition and a few forever-clashing philosophies.

Creators Susan Kohout and Chris Milton have performed their play in the region and state for a few years. The current production has two extra points of interest.

One is the consequence of the coronavirus COVID-19. You know, social distancing, etc. The play was performed Saturday evening outdoors in a church parking lot as part of the special “Drive-In Theater” series created by Rogue Theater.

Another is the consequence of a coming date, Aug. 20. Thursday is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Another performance of the well-timed play remains this evening, Sunday, Aug. 16.

In essence with this presentation, four determined are involved. Two are from today, and two are from the pages of history.

The setup: Susan B. Anthony (Chris Milton) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Susan Kohout) meet over tea in June 1906. The old friends chat and tease one another a bit, discuss philosophies they share and disagree on and recount important moments in their lives.

Letters they wrote to one another help underline their “Friendship of Consequence.”

Woven in are public speeches each gave, including by Susan B. Anthony in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, early on in the vitriol-filled campaign for women’s rights. One phrase in that speech referred to “women’s wrongs.”

Chris Milton and Susan Kohout give the famed pioneering women flesh and blood beyond bold pronouncements in speeches. Susan B. Anthony threatens to hold back cream and sugar from the tea of Elizabeth Cady Stanton because the latter has “grown stout.” The two thrust and parry on matters of an afterlife. And their stances on marriage find Elizabeth Cady Stanton lamenting the toll her six children had on her goals and Susan B. Anthony expressing her choice of independence over servitude for not marrying.

Susan Kohout as Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (Warren Gerds)

The play is interesting in that while the prime topic of the voting right of women was solved, other points are hot-button topics and are likely to remain so.

One of the pithy quotes about the historical friends is from a husband, Henry Stanton: “Susan stirs the pudding, Elizabeth stirs up Susan, and Susan stirs up the world.”

***

Authors’ notes

This background by Chris Milton and Susan Kohout helps define the two women:

Susan B. Anthony (1815-1902) was a plain-spoken, disciplined Quaker. She was single-minded in her drive to promote her many causes. A strategist, she made compromises when necessary to move forward on her issues.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was a mother of seven and an uncompromising revolutionary. She was born to wealth, enjoying fine clothes and fine food. While often tied to her family and household, she provided speeches, articles and letters that kept the issues alive.
In July 1848, a Women’s Rights Convention was held at Seneca Falls, New York. A group of approximately 200 women and men assembled to hold what became the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement. Organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, a well-known activist for abolition and women’s rights, a speech was given by Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the beginning of the two-day Seneca Falls Convention.
Then in 1851, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton embarked on a collaboration that evolved into one of the most productive working partnerships in American history. As uncompromising women’s rights leaders, they revolutionized the political and social condition of women in American society.

Stanton was the leading voice and philosopher of the women’s rights and suffrage movements while Anthony was the powerhouse who commandeered the legions of women who struggled to win the ballot for American women. These two women worked together for more than 50 years to fight for women’s right to vote.  

Although neither lived to see the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, they are arguably the most important figures in the suffrage movement.

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Creative: Playwrights and producers (costuming, props, etc.) – Susan Kohout and Chris Milton

Cast

Susan B. Anthony – Chris Milton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton – Susan Kohout

Remaining performance: 6 p.m. Aug. 16

Location: Parking lot of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 1756 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay

Info: (920) 818-0816

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Ahead in Rogue Theater “Drive-In Theater” series: Aug. 22-23, “Just Plane Funny,” a collection of comedy skits; and “Golden Age of Comedy,” TV skits from the ’50s to ’70s.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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