The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder is a U.S. literary classic, read by most of us in high school. It’s a simple book about five Peruvians falling to their deaths when a rope bridge across a chasm breaks in 1714.
But it not so simple when you examine the beautiful details of their intertwined lives in Colonial Peru. The five victim are Don Jamie, child of the Perichole, an actress with dreams of gentility; Uncle Pio, mentor of the Perichole and now assuming that role with her child; Marquessa Dona Maria, heartbroken mother and nascent literary genius with her companion, Pepita; and Esteban, bereft survivor of his identical twin, lost to gangrene. A local Franciscan, Brother Juniper, seeks to prove that these five died because God deemed them valueless sinners. His research, the premise of the book, illustrates the value of all who died and therefore the capriciousness of God. Brother Juniper and his book are burned by the Church.
This production, adapted from the book by Rogue Managing and Artistic Director Cynthia Meier and directed by Joseph McGrath, Artistic Director, is a tour de force. Like most book adaptations for the stage, it is long on narrative. The spoken dialogue and much of the narrative are taken directly from the book. But it is in the staging that this production shines. The ensemble is large, 11 cast members, two playing dual roles. Most are on the stage simultaneously, with lighting directing the action flow. The stage is stark, focused on the broken arc of the bridge at center stage. For me, the most memorable scenes are those of the “soon to be dead” as they complete their stories and mount the bridge until all five are there. Dramatic staging at its best.
All actors were special in their roles. Kathryn Kellner Brown as the Marquesa Doña Maria was stunning.
This adaptation is the first sanctioned by the estate of Thornton Wilder. It will likely become a classic of community and school theater like “Our Town”. Kudos to The Rogue and may they bask in ongoing royalty revenue.