Review | The Bridges Of Madison County: cornfed passion

Artistry Theater, Bloomington Center For The Arts, through Feb 16

Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Eric Morris in THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Photo by Devon Cox.


In the 90s every woman (and many men) read Robert James Waller‘s novel The Bridges Of Madison County (nowadays the title is 50 Shades Of Gray). The book was hugely popular.

And why not? The story, of two late-middle aged people, Robert Kincaid, a photographer (for National Geographic) and Francesca, an Iowa housewife, coming together in a paroxysm of frenzied passion in the middle of the summer cornfields, really resonated.

And it still does: the story is experiencing an effective reboot as a musical, and Artistry Theater has done us the great favor of producing it. The creators – composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown and the über-gifted bookist, Marsha Norman – have done terrific work. Especially effective, imo, is the way Brown and Norman capture Iowa. Witness my favorite exchange: “What would you do if I ran off with a photographer?” (Marge, nicely played by Wendy Short-Hays). “Is there any cake left?” (Charley, a terrific turn by Fred Mackaman). Wonderful.

And the Artistry production thrills. Director Benjamin McGovern reveals himself to one of the most accomplished artists in the area. His specialty is silently sliding set pieces. He makes The Bridges Of Madison County fit perfectly on the stage.

I have come to understand that the unsung hero of a musical is the music director, in this case Anita Ruth. She gives the two leads, Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Eric Morris, thrilling erotic presence and operatic power. They, and we, owe her a major debt.

Other characters are wonderful also, notably Becca Hart as Marian and Charlie Clark as the goofy Bud.

All is not perfection. The play ends endlessly. I didn’t understand why we needed to marry off Caroline the bratty daughter and kill Bud.

Feel free to ignore me, however. Parking at the Bloomington Center For The Arts is free and plentiful, and the theater is comfortable. Artistry offers an excellent way to spend a frigid winter night.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. John has won fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and from the National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit his informational website.




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