Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Bridges of Madison County
The story, based on Robert James Waller's 1992 novel, takes a deep and empathetic look at life, love, and the possibility of second chances. In 1965, Francesca Johnson (Erin Davie) thinks about her life–growing up in Naples, Italy, amid the destruction of World War II, marrying an American soldier (Cullen R. Titmas), and beginning anew as a farmer's wife–while her husband and teenage children (spunky Julia Wheeler Lennon and gawky, hotheaded Nolan Montgomery) leave her at home to attend a livestock competition in Indiana. Then, Robert Kincaid (Mark Evans), a globetrotting National Geographic photographer, stops by the farm to ask for directions to a historic covered bridge, and the story begins.
Davie has an open, radiant face that reveals every shift of Francesca's mood: her relief at having the house to herself, her interest when Robert tells her of his postwar visit to Naples, the growing emotional undercurrent that takes her by surprise, and the bittersweet look back as years pass. She also has a shimmering soprano voice that partners beautifully with Evans as his voice shifts from ringing to quietly down-to-earth.
Director Ethan Heard uses the constraints of the set to emphasize the constriction Francesca has come to feel in her life. The farm families of Madison County look out for each other, as her husband stresses–there's even a song titled "You're Never Alone"–but sometimes concern can turn into intrusiveness. Good-hearted neighbor Marge (Rayanne Gonzales) takes a serious interest in this stranger who shows up in Francesca's yard, to the amused exasperation of her husband Charlie (Christopher Bloch).
Brown and Norman have written a chamber piece for eight actors, one of whom, Marina Pires, sparkles in several small roles. She is most striking as Marian, Robert's ex-wife, depicted in his memory as a Joni Mitchell-esque folksinger in a flowing hippie dress. (Most of Kathleen Geldard's costumes are the sort of worn, practical clothes that rural folks would wear, with the exception of a shimmering pink dress for Francesca.)
In contrast to the simple, rough-hewn set, where multi-use boxes turn into the walls of a covered bridge with minimal effort, Jesse Belsky has created a rapturous lighting design that presents a panoramic sky view on the walls behind the seating areas.
The Bridges of Madison County runs through September 17, 2023, at Signature Theatre, MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.
Music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Francesca Johnson: Erin Davie