By Nate Blower
The midwestern sun beats down on the peaceful fields behind the Johnson family home where Francesca Johnson is occupied with building a home for her family. Seed reports over the radio, 4-H competitions, and a bottle of brandy are the lifelines to the outside world as time moves slowly through the kitchens, porches, and bridges of Winterset, Iowa.
Although life moves slowly here, local gossip moves fast. When a National Geographic photographer drives up Johnson’s driveway after her family takes off for Indianapolis, this eighteen-year period of her life comes to a halt and her world is changed forever.
The Fine Arts Center’s first production of 2020, The Bridges of Madison County, is a story of love, loss, and longing. It is a story of an affair between an Italian immigrant who has been restricted to the role of an Iowa housewife and a National Geographic photographer who happens to meet her while asking for directions to a bridge that he intends to photograph. They bond over a love for Italian food, art, and, as time goes by, a fear of being caught forever in the lives they’ve built for themselves. The photographer, Robert Kincaid, sings about losing himself behind his camera while Johnson wonders about the life that she left behind in Italy.
As they get to know each other better, the relationship becomes romantic and their bond grows. While this is happening, Johnson’s husband calls in to give her updates on the road trip and the competition in which their kids are taking part. As Johnson becomes more removed from her life with him, his calls become more frequent, while her responses grow more infrequent. Likewise, neighbors take notice of Kincaid’s pickup truck in her driveway and begin asking questions. Rumors fly through the porches and cafes of town.
The husband and kids then make a hasty return to Iowa. Upon theirreturn, they sense that something is different. The play reaches a point of tension when Johnson must decide whether she’ll leave for New York with Kincaid or stick with the seemingly harder family life that she’s built for herself at home.
The play is set with an amazing backdrop of the rolling fields of Iowa with sunrises, sunsets, and the unpolluted night sky with a simple but dynamic rolling set of backdrops which never get old. The bridges become front porches, the kitchens become front doors, and the trees move to adapt to the scenes which demand them.
Along with the wide variety in sets, the songs also take on many forms and styles, from acoustic ballads sung by former lovers to old-fashioned country songs. They are sung by the powerful voices of the two lead actors who control the stage while singing incredibly vulnerable songs.
The Bridges of Madison County, though sometimes rather sappy, has something for everybody. It will hit you in ways you might not expect from a typical love story. Allow yourself to be transported to the world of Winterset, Iowa for three hours and take a look into the complicated relationship between Johnson and Kincaid.