Museum drama looks at long-distance Civil War relationship

Museum drama looks at long-distance Civil War relationship
Image courtesy the Minnesota History Center
A kind of Civil War Love Letters will be presented at the Minnesota History Center in the coming week. 

Go If You Think It Is Your Duty traces the relationship of Madison and Lizzie Bowler, who spent much of the war separated, communicating only via hundreds of letters back and forth.

Playwright Victoria Stewart molded these letters into an hour-long stage play, which has been directed by Craig Johnson and features the acting talents of Peter Hansen, Anna Sundberg, Dietrich Poppen, and Abby DeSanto.

"One of the great things about working in the Twin Cities theater community is the opportunity artists have to broaden the scope of their craft -- and pay the bills --  by working in museum theater," Johnson says.

There are numerous venues around the cities that feature this work, from the Mill City Museum to the James J. Hill House, where Johnson is the manager. In fact, Hansen and Sundberg were featured in a Gremlin Theatre production After Miss Julie in the Hill House.

Johnson is a sort of emissary between the two worlds. "It's fun being the guy bringing the theater and museum worlds together. Sometimes it feels like I know these foreign languages, translating museum speak into showfolk talk, and vice versa," he says.

Stewart's play "came up pretty quickly as a project. In December, the Minnesota Historical Society solicited treatments for a Civil War play that would be based on several incredibly rich collections of letters in the society's collections and amplify themes in the Civil War exhibit that recently opened there," Johnson says.

Stewart's take on the Bowler letter collection rose to the top "because those letters are a really compelling story of a young Minnesota couple separated by the Civil War," Johnson says.

The hour-long show includes the readings of actual letters between the two, staged scenes to dramatize important moments, and Civil War-era music selected by James Lekatz "to bookend the show and highlight moments of sorrow and joy," Johnson says.

"At our read-through the other day it was so clear that Tory had incorporated so much of their warmth, humor, and quirkiness that it should be readily accessible to a broad audience," Johnson says.

Stewart's play, which will be performed twice during the next week, is just one of several museum-based shows around right now. Johnson was also the director for Streetcar Time Machine at the History Center, and it features sound design by actor Poppen from the Civil War show.

"It's a really active community that keeps swirling together for these plays, and then we all go off and do our 'regular' shows at night," Johnson says.


Go If You Think It Is Your Duty
2 p.m. Saturdays, plus 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 9
Through April 9

Minnesota History Center
345 Kellogg Blvd W., St. Paul
Reservations required. Call 651-259-3015 or reserve online

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Minnesota History Center

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102


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