Nathan Tylutki and Neil Schneider in Mrs. Charles.
Photo courtesy Freshwater Theatre Company
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.