An off-Broadway adaption of the beloved novel and film The Bridges of Madison County is currently in season at Arlington's Signature Theater. I had a chance to attend the show on Saturday, September 2nd. Ethan Heard directs the play, featuring a score from Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman penned the play's book, a captivating love story about our choices.
Francesca (played by Erin Davie) marries an American soldier named Bud (Cullen R. Titmas) to flee a war-torn Italy after World War II. The couple settles in Iowa, with Francescna bearing two kids and living a quiet, uneventual life. When the play opens, her now teenage children, Carolyn and Michael (portrayed by Julia Wheeler Lennon and Nolan Montgomery), are in the midst of sibling rivalry, and Bud is overly comfortable.
Bud and the kids are preparing for a road trip to Indianapolis, where Carolyn's prized steer is scheduled to compete in the national 4-H fair. On the first day the family is away, Francesca meets charismatic World-traveling National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid (Mark Evans), who awakens her passion and changes her life forever.
I'd never read the original novel and hadn't seen the 1995 film adaptation in nearly two decades, so I went into the play with fresh eyes. I'm a fan of this particular venue as it has an intimate feel, which is ideal for the story that The Bridges Of Madison County wants to tell. The set design is meticulous and vivid, showcasing the idyllic Iowa landscape with impressive lighting effects. It creates a captivating and intimate setting where secrets are shared and hearts are united.
Davie and Evans genuinely captivate the audience with their exceptional acting skills, portraying their characters with genuine emotions and creating a powerful connection that brings their secret relationship to life. Viewers are quickly drawn into their intense and natural chemistry, making their clandestine affair all the more intriguing and captivating. Honestly, they save the play with their chemistry and acting. Nevertheless, though, I have one gripe with the play.
The play had a runtime of 2.5 hours, and I sometimes found myself checking the time. While I appreciated the theme of portraying a captivating story of forbidden love and exploring the intricate emotions and complexities of human relationships, something was lacking. I wasn't expecting fourth wall-breaking and witty one-liners, but the production left me feeling like it needed a particular element. Additionally, the play is a musical with folk serving as the primary genre. Although I am not particularly fond of folk music, the cast's vocal performances in the songs were impressive and well-executed.
However, at its core, The Bridges of Madison County is a story about the romance between two main characters. The play navigates complicated feelings with finesse, emphasizing genuineness and empathy as it delves into the intricacies of the human heart.
Final Grade: C+
The Bridges of Madison County runs through September 17, 2023, at Signature Theatre, 4100 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA, 22206. For more information and tickets, call The Box Office at 703-820-7991.