The stage musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, now making its Michigan premiere at Pinckney’s Dio Theatre, ends its first act with a moment that feels like a key catching in a lock — and in that instant, you feel each person in the audience make a choice: they’re either checking out or they’re all in.
Why? Because the show’s story, set in Iowa in 1965, focuses on a lonely, middle-aged, Italian former war bride (Francesca, played by Marlene Inman) who, while her husband and two teenage children are away for a few days at the Indiana State Fair, finds herself irresistibly drawn into a love affair with an itinerant National Geographic photographer (Robert, played by Jon McHatton) who’s in town to shoot pictures of the local covered bridges.
Often, tales of adultery stack the deck by making the absent spouse abusive or coarse or deceitful, thereby subtly justifying the betrayal and making it easy to sympathize with the partner who strays. But Bridges, perhaps fittingly, takes the more challenging road less traveled, making Francesca’s husband Bud (Andrew Gorney) a decent, upstanding guy who’s simply not particularly engaged or romantic. After nearly 20 years of marriage, this hardly seems a unique or punishable offense.
So how you respond when Francesca leads Robert into the bed she normally shares with Bud — which inevitably feels a little extra back-stabby — will depend on the reach of your empathy for her situation. Francesca must ultimately choose between her own happiness and her family’s, and while some audience members may feel she only has herself to blame, others will think, “If someone suddenly makes you feel awake and alive, in the midst of sleepwalking through life, it can’t be easy to push that away and simply say ‘no.’” READ THE REST HERE