There are some things that are hard to imagine translating into the world of musicals. A novel about an immigrant housewife and her brief, incendiary affair with a traveling photographer would seem to be one of them. But, through the art of theater, Charleston Light Opera Guild made it magical.
Not the typical FestivALL offering of lighthearted summer stock, “The Bridges of Madison County” was a decisive, veering away from the norm. A poignant tale of illicit love found and lost, and the lifelong ramifications of an affair — so briefly of the body, but eternally of the heart.
Emily Capece as lonely homemaker Francesca Johnson and Scott Jarrell as National Geographic photojournalist Robert Kincaid all but set the theater on fire with their smoldering chemistry. Their on-stage romance left audience members literally fanning themselves with their programs.
The two powerhouse voices delivered duets like “Wondering,” “Who We Are and Who We Want to Be,” and “Before and After You/A Million Miles” that left the spectator feeling almost voyeuristic. It was as though we were offered a naked view of two souls in turmoil.
But as with all extramarital affairs, rarely is there an uninjured party. Eric Hudnall as the cuckold husband, Bud Johnson, had the unfortunate honor. It was briefly easy to imagine him as a two-dimensional character deserving of his fate, preoccupied with the farm, state fairs and his children.
Easy, until his heart-wrenching solo, “Something from a Dream.” In that moment his character’s pain became unbearably real. Quite possibly the performance of Hudnall’s stage career, he broke my heart into a million pieces as his longing and self-awareness coalesced into almost tangible suffering.
The intensity of the performance was at times uncomfortable; however, the injections of lighthearted, although brief, comedy offered a welcome reprieve from the agonizing heartache of impossible choices.
The bickering of the Johnson children, Megan Sydnor-Collins (Carolyn) and Jacob Fleck (Micheal), gave a welcome comic respite, as did the antics of nosy neighbor Victoria Casey (Marge) and husband Tim Whitener (Charlie).
The supporting cast, though talented, does little to water down the vividness of this relationship-driven drama, and even when the entire ensemble takes the stage there are moments when Capece and Jarrell seem to be utterly alone. Trapped in the web of impossible choices, they exist, for all-consuming moments, in a vacuum.
Not a lighthearted summer offering, though nonetheless worthy of your entertainment budget, “The Bridges of Madison County” is a rare summer jewel. Secreted away in the Guild’s West Side Theater, it is well worth straying from the heart of FestivALL’s downtown activities for this provoking drama. It runs Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Note: Due to a power outage Sunday afternoon, the light opera guild has added an additional show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Tickets for the missed show will also be honored at the remaining performances.