Blessed Be the Patron Saint of Iowa Housewives: “The Bridges of Madison County”

Glenn Perry Photography; Jennifer Ellis & Christiaan Smith.

Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company
Book by Marsha Norman
Music, lyrics and orchestrations by Jason Robert Brown
Based on the novel by Robert James Waller
Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara
Music directed by Matthew Stern
Choreography by Misha Shields

May 6 – June 3, 2017
Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
SpeakEasy on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) The Bridges of Madison County is a musical about sacrifice and neglect. Ladies and gents, if you’re feeling underappreciated, please bring tissues. You’ll need them.

Bridges discusses emotional needs within the context of mature relationships. Francesca (Jennifer Ellis) is an overworked Italian-American housewife in Iowa. Her wholesome but clueless husband Bud (Christopher Chew) is with the kids at the State Fair showing their steer, Stevie. The minute they depart, Francesca is visited by hippy National Geographic photographer, Robert (Christiaan Smith looking like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel). Francesca must decide if four nights of the best sex of her life are worth abandoning her family.    

Bridges approaches infidelity from a morally ambiguous perspective. Wedding vows are a promise to abide by agreed upon rules of the marriage set by the parties involved. It means respect for these parameters through thick and thin. The rules can change if both parties consent to that change. That being said, one person can’t be all things to another. If one partner doesn’t need additional support, it means the other is doing the work for both. Francesca had no emotional support. Bud wasn’t holding up his end of the contract. With Robert’s rugged good looks, cowboy accent, and casually sensitive artiness, touch-starved Francesca didn’t stand a damn chance. Norman and Brown aren’t saying that cheating is okay, but they aren’t not saying it either. Survival counts for nothing when the soul starves.

Bevin O’Gara, Ellis and Smith have created sensuous, provocative theatre. O’Gara’s staging is thoughtful; it’s execution by Ellis and Smith is sensitive. We know who these people are and where they are from by their movements alone. There was delicious tension between the two leads. Ellis’ accent work is very good. Her musical interpretation is touching, sincere.

Smith holds his (singing) voice back, and it is frustrating. He let’s go during, “It All Fades Away,” and the sound is glorious. It’s a shame, for whatever the reasons, that we don’t hear more of this sound from him.

Kerry A. Dowling (Marge) and Will McGarrahan (Charlie) are hilarious as the old couple next door.  

The design crew is chock full of ladies working hard to make this production amazing. Shout outs to Bridget Collins, Annie Wiegand, Lisa Charlotte Berg, Cameron Anderson, Carmen Catherine Alfaro, Amanda Ostrow Mason, Amelia Broome, L. Arkansas Light, Allison Schneider, and Kat Shanahan for breaking into stereotypically male professions! Wiegand’s lighting design, in specific, is exquisite. She perfectly captures daybreak and sunset pinks, oranges, and yellows. Keep on rocking on, Ladies.

Bridges expressive music isn’t Jason Robert Brown’s usual fare. There are solos to suit every voice in this production. “Another Life,” “Something From A Dream,” “It All Fades Away,” and excerpts from any of Francesca’s numbers are great for auditions or recitals. The role of Marian/Chiara (the über talented Alessandra Valea) requires dance ability but could be performed by a singer “who moves.”

Romance 101: no socks. Not even during pretend sex. Socks ruin the mood. So why in Heaven’s name does Robert keep his socks on? Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. So much so that I had to take several deep breaths to calm down. For the sake of sexy times, viewer be warned: here there be socks.

The intermission commentary from the audience made this particular performance a joy to experience. In addition to the girlish titters over the moment when Smith took his shirt off, couples seeing the show together voiced opinions on the romantic dilemma Bridges sets forth. Hearing such dialogue from mature couples in decades-long relationships contextualizes the onstage drama. Is it better to have loved than to have abstained? It’s for each couple to determine.


Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

TCG has a list of things you can do to help.

#blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #brownlivesmatter #yellowlivesmatter #lgbtqialivesmatter #immigrantlivesmatter #muslimlivesmatter #disabledlivesmatter #theatreartsmatter #NODAPL

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