This week, WGBH Arts’ Editor Jared Bowen tours the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to discover the connection between famed painter John Singer Sargent and his Boston-based model, Thomas McKeller. Plus, reviews of two new plays in Boston.

“Boston’s Apollo,” on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum through May 17.

Boston's Apollo
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), Study of Two Male Nudes for a Cartouche for the Rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1916–1921. Charcoal on paper, 47.7 x 63.2 cm (18 3/4 x 24 7/8 in.) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (S.G.Sar.4.1.2)
Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

John Singer Sargent’s murals at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts depict white gods and goddesses reigning in its soaring rotunda. But the model Sargent used for most of his figures, a black elevator operator named Thomas McKeller, has been erased from the story — until now.

At the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, “Boston’s Apollo” explores the relationship Sargent had with McKeller through a series of Sargent’s sketches pulled from the Gardner Museum archives.

“He was a bellhop at the Hotel Vendome, he was a veteran, a Roxbury resident,” says Curator of the Collection Nathaniel Silver.

While the relationship between the artist and model is unclear, historians have speculated the relationship might have been more than professional — a theory based in part on Sargent’s masterful and monumental nude of McKeller which he kept in his studio away from the public.

“[McKeller] had this life that put him in a uniform, that put him in a box,” says Helga Davis, the Gardner Museum’s Visiting Curator of Performing Arts. “This life that he had as a model is his own freedom. His own creativity.”

“She the People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves,” presented by Huntington Theatre Company and The Second City through March 8

She the People: Girlfriends' Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves
The cast of She the People, presented by Huntington Theatre Company and The Second City
Timothy M. Schmidt, courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company and The Second City

Many know The Second City as the legendary comedy theater which produced SNL greats like Chris Farley, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler among others. Now, Second City teams up with the Huntington Theatre Company to present “She the People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves.”

Tapping the next generation of female comedians and actors, “She the People” takes square aim at the politics of today.

“A huge gale of fresh, unfiltered air has blown into Boston,” says Jared, “'She the People' is unapologetically direct and searing. The laughs are big and the point is lasting.”

“Wolf Play,” presented by Company One Theatre at the Boston Public Library through February 29. Tickets are pay-what-you-can

Company One
(L-R) Greg Maraio, Minh-Anh Day and Tonasia Jones in "Wolf Play"
Andrew James Wang, courtesy of Company One Theatre

At the Boston Public Library, Company One Theatre presents the rolling world-premiere of “Wolf Play” by South Korean playwright Hansol Jung.

The play centers around a young, orphan boy depicted here by a puppet, who likens himself to a wolf longing to find his pack. When his adoptive family decides they would rather give him away, the boy appears to get the opportunity for a fresh start with a new family … until his original adopters realize they are giving the child to a lesbian couple, sparking a painful custody battle.

“'Wolf Play' delivers us into the dark, soulless perils of adoption,” says Jared. “Our hero is a fearless boy in a tale that’s a testament to the enduring originality of Company One Theatre.”

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