Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Music direction by: William J. Liberatore
Featuring: Joan Hess, Rob Richardson, Timothy Gulan, Matt Herrero, Jessia Hoffman, Maureen McVerry, Martin Rojas Dietrich, Christine Capsuto, Courtney Stokes, Sean Fenton
When: April 4 through April 29, 2018
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Tickets: $40-$100. Visit theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960.
at 'Bridges of Madison County'
and four days of bliss in Iowa
A missing bridge, a state fair, an Italian immigrant and a wandering photographer. Elements for a love affair that must be kept secret.
Why do people have affairs? There has to be opportunity, but also at least one party must be trying to fill in a gap, find a certain something they feel is missing in their lives.
In TheatreWorks Silicon Valley's "The Bridges of Madison County," Francesca, played with an alluring Italian accent by Joan Hess, meets American soldier Bud (Timothy Gulan) at the end of World War II and marries him, leaving her native Naples for rural Iowa.
We meet the family, now with a son and daughter, in 1965, when 16-year old son Michael, played with rebellious teenage angst by Matt Herrero, proclaims that he will never be a farmer. Daughter Carolyn, played feistily by Jessia Hoffman, is preparing her prize-winning steer Stevie for the Iowa State Fair, where she hopes to win a major prize.
The State Fair provides the aforementioned opportunity. Bud takes Michael, Carolyn — and Stevie, of course — on a four-day trip to the fair, leaving Francesca on her own for what appears to be the first time.
By chance, tall dark stranger Robert Kincaid, played with tall dark strangeness by Rob Richardson, is taking photos of the Madison County bridges for National Geographic magazine. There are supposed to be seven, but he can only find six. In his search for the missing bridge he drives up the first driveway he finds, Francesca's, and knocks on her door. Francesca has only just said goodbye to Bud and the children and is in her kitchen (lovely roll-away scenery by scenic designer Wilson Chin), wondering how to spend the next few days without the family to care for.
She is immediately attracted to Robert and he mentions that he has just come back from a picture-taking expedition to her home town of Naples. Showing her one or two of the pictures of the city where she grew up but has never been back to, she suddenly realizes how much she misses it, and how much she has given up to raise a family in the farming heartland of America. Her mind goes back to the young man she was engaged to who never returned from the war, life in a big city, and her dream of going to art school. But she ran away from the bombed-out city that was her home and now she can't get back. Until this point Francesca's life seemed pretty complete, but maybe she too was searching for that missing bridge in her own life.
The musical numbers are enjoyable — Robert and Francesca's duet "One Second and a Million Miles" and Francesca's "Almost Real" are standouts — though Hess's voice is a little strained at times. Timothy Gulan as Bud does a great job on "Something from a Dream" as does Courtney Stokes as Robert's ex-wife Marian on "Another Life."
Francesca helps Robert find the missing seventh bridge — the Roseman Bridge — and invites him back for dinner. One thing leads to another and before we know it they are in each other's arms, and her bed. A little comic relief is provided by nosy neighbor Marge (Maureen McVerry nicely channeling Gladys Kravitz from "Bewitched") who exclaims to husband Charlie "Why is that photographer's truck still outside the Johnsons' house?"
So a carefree four-day holiday of book-reading and long walks without the husband and kids turns into a four-day love affair with candlelit dinners and days spent in bed, trying to avoid the neighbors.
So far, so good. But although Robert's love for Francesca, and her love for him, has apparently found the missing bridge for both of them, when the time comes to part and Robert gives Francesca the opportunity to run away with him, she cannot quite come to give up her old life.
When Bud and the bickering children return, Bud knows something has changed and just as we think she is going to tell him, Francesca backs away from the edge and cooks dinner instead.
Robert gives her his number in New York, but she never calls. "I will always love, and love is better," she sings, putting us in mind of Tennyson's line "'Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all."
Yet the song — and the play — ends on a major chord, leaving us with a feeling of optimism. Robert never re-marries, holding a lifelong torch for Francesca. Francesca, although both winner and loser, seems to come out ahead. She successfully grows her family and maybe the affair was just enough to keep her going.
Director Robert Kelley saw the show on Broadway and didn't have high expectations beforehand, apparently. But on seeing it he was bowled over and decided to bring it to the Bay Area, giving it his usual master's touch. For a love story it moves along at a good speed, and Hess and Richardson do a much better job than the movie's Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org