|Photo courtesy Freshwater Theatre Company|
|Nathan Tylutki and Neil Schneider in Mrs. Charles.|
An enigmatic painting hanging at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts inspired the latest original work by the award-winning Freshwater Theatre.
Playwright Ruth Virkus has long been intrigued by John Singleton Copley's Portrait of Sarah Allen, nee Sargent. The 18th-century painting features what seems to be a man living as a woman.
Virkus took that as inspiration and began crafting a story set amid the bustle of late 19th-century Minneapolis, as the city began to find its own identity on the prairie.
"I spent months reading everything. I just fell even more in love with this city. The people who settled here were interested in building something to last," Virkus says.
The play centers on a pair of men, Charles and Walter, who recreate themselves as Charlotte and Walter when they move to Minneapolis as a way to live together in the restrictive 1870s.
While there are fictional characters at the heart of the story, a number of historical figures are part of the play as well, including names you would recognize from Minneapolis streets, neighborhoods, and buildings.
"Some of the characters really introduced themselves; our characters would have every reason to run across them. I stole them, and I stole their wives. Charlotte's character needed a support system of her own," Virkus says.
As with past productions, Freshwater will present a second show in repertoire with Mrs. Charles. This time out, it's a collection called Archival Revival. During the research for the play, Virkus came across numerous intriguing and downright odd newspaper articles and stories. A number of these were posted on Freshwater's website, with an open invitation for creators to take the ideas and run with them.
The results range from a musical about a woman's repeated attempts to commit suicide to an exploration of "rodents of unusual sizes on Bohemian Flats, eating the chickens," Virkus says.
Another piece, "Backstage at the Bijou Opera House," explores a prairie kind of theatrical problem. "There really was a wolf attack backstage," Virkus says. "And there was a heroic dog who saved this woman's life."
IF YOU GO:
Mrs. Charles and Archival Revival
1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
$15 for Mrs. Charles; $12 for Archival Revival
For tickets and more information call 612.816.8479 or visit online.
1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis, MN