Spoiler alert: a wife stays home while her husband and children travel out of state. A stranger approaches her for directions. They have an affair. She plans to leave with him, then doesn’t.
On paper, The Bridges of Madison County doesn’t sound like a compelling story. On stage, I couldn’t believe the tears coming from my eyes.
Signature Theatre grounds the story with a dramaturgical overview of World War II brides including over 9,000 from Italy who only accounted for 3% of approved marriages under Congress’s “War Brides Act,” setting patrons up to empathize with the characters’ actions.
Central character Francesca (Erin Davie) is a work of fiction from Robert James Waller’s novel, but she embodies the real experience of a woman leaving her war-torn home of Naples in favor of security. She builds a home and a life in Iowa. Love is a luxury in her world, and the true protagonist of the story.
The charm of what could easily be a tawdry story is the fact that there is no true antagonist. Francesca’s husband Bud (Cullen R. Titmas, who played the role in the national tour) is a kindhearted albeit assertive man who has the same domestic expectations of a wife as most men in the 1960s. They love their two teenage children, Carolyn and Michael (Julia Wheeler Lennon, Nolan Montgomery), and support their endearing and nosy neighbors including Marge and Charlie (Rayanne Gonzales, Christopher Bloch).
Without the introduction of Robert Kincaid (Mark Evans), Bridges could easily resemble a musical adaptation of Our Town. Even after he and Francesca meet and sparks fly, the soapy cliches that come with affair stories are notably absent. Their four days together are not a scandal, but a cherished memory of true love at the wrong time. The neighbors know and don’t tell. Bud knows something has shifted but the pair continue their life together.
Supporting the complexities and nuance of the story is Jason Robert Brown’s score which is as multifaceted as the characters, feeling operatic, folksy, or intense to underscore each moment. Paired with an intimate, utilitarian set design using multi-purpose storage benches for scenic transition and stunning lighting design, Signature’s staging welcomed the audience as community members rather than spectators.
As life in Iowa continues for years beyond Francesca and Robert’s affair, the loss of characters to time is our loss, too. From the ringing phone to the milestone events, this production makes it clear that time stops for no one. The tears we shed for one moment hadn’t stopped before we’d moved on to the next.
Francesca’s final reflection, “Always Better,” summarizes the story’s themes and considers all the paths her life may have taken. The song alone encompasses the entire show beautifully in just a few minutes, and leaves us with what matters most: “but what we did is that we loved, and love is always better.”
Now through September 17, 2023.
Tickets and information at SigTheatre.org
- Recommended for ages 17+.
- Closed captions will be available for every show via the GalaPro app.
- Post-show Discussions: August 30 and September 12, 2023
- Masks Required: August 20, 2PM and September 12, 7:30PM
- Signature has updated its policy regarding masking in performance spaces. Please visit
SigTheatre.org/Safety for more details on current safety standards.
Theatre Writer for Baltimore OUTloud.
Bekah is a Baltimore-based ally who is obsessed with all things Broadway. In addition to written reviews, she creates social media theatre content @broadwaybekahchica. When she’s not at a show or organizing her Playbills, you can find her rehearsing with the New Wave Singers of Baltimore, enjoying stoop night with friends, or snuggled up with her husband and pets.
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