An Interview with David Diehl on The Bridges of Madison County
Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach, FL is gearing up for its first production of 2019: the beautiful, moving, and powerful musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County. We sat down with David Diehl, who is playing Robert Kincaid.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Lancaster, PA. I entered the world as the fourth child in a brood which would eventually become a set of ten children, five boys and five girls. Music was one of the central pillars of our home. We sang before bed every night. I joined my first choir at three. I grew up making mixed tapes with my siblings from our parents’ record collections. You could find me at seven vacuuming our carpeted basement while belting out Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and the band Kiss.
I became involved in theatre as a child after singing Jonah in a community production of Jonah and the Whale. My parents at this time had enrolled my siblings and me in musical theatre classes at the Fulton Theatre in downtown Lancaster and we all subsequently became involved in productions there. My first show there, just after I turned ten, I played Kurt in the Sound of Music. It was the first time I had to sing in parts. It took me forever to stop singing along with our Louisa who was always singing beside me. People in the community started referring to my family as Lancaster’s “Von Trapp family singers” as my Mom and most of my siblings were in the show with me.
Several years, theatres and productions later I decided to follow in the footsteps of my older siblings and pursue a degree in the arts. I had first heard opera singing when I was fourteen and I was hooked, so I applied to schools with programs focusing on this. The day of my audition, when I stepped onto the campus of Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, I felt an immediate connection. I was beyond thrilled to receive the acceptance letter and the aid I needed to make the conservatory my home for the next four years. I loved my time there. I met my amazingly talented wife, Julz there my second year. She transferred into the school that year as a soprano. Three years later we graduated together and got married the following summer.
My wife grew up in Jacksonville and we eventually chose to make this city our home. She has built a very successful career in marketing and I work in medical sales for VAYA Pharmaceuticals. We continue to share our passion for singing and have both felt a renewed desire to perform in the community this past year. We are also both certified yoga instructors and love spending time with our two dogs, August and Blue.
Why were you attracted to auditioning for this production? What does it mean to YOU as an artist?
First and foremost, I was attracted to the project by the music. The score is gorgeous. I love Jason Robert Brown’s music. The way he marries bluegrass, folk and rock with classical singing in this piece is magic. There is a country element to a few of the songs I get to sing which has been a lot of fun to work out in my own voice.
There is also so much meat in the script. It is a difficult subject to tackle. Robert is a character unlike myself in many ways. He lives his life disconnected from people. His life of travel excludes him from being part of any permanent kind of community. He has no familial ties. I’m quite the opposite. Maybe it’s his discovery of an abiding human connection for the first time in his relationship with Francesca that makes his journey so compelling. There is a sense of magnetism which he, she and the audience must fight against before the characters come together. That is the real challenge of the show for me. How do you tell this story without alienating the audience by the choices we make on stage?
Can you tell us a little about the character you're playing?
Researching Robert in the novel and in Clint Eastwood’s film interpretation has given me so many pieces to work with in developing his character. I feel the novel initially presents him in a certain mystical light. A man from different era, a less civilized time maybe. Hard edges, almost unknowable. Very deep. An expert and total professional in the work he does. Seemingly married to his craft. In line with who Robert becomes, Eastwood’s portrayal of him is very simple and refreshingly honest. He has no airs about him and represents almost a deep calm in contrast to the whirlwind Francesca is experiencing beside him. At least until he is caught up in the same storm himself. With Francesca he becomes completely transparent and then, keenly vulnerable. Vulnerable far beyond what even his ex-wife experienced in four years of marriage.
I believe Eastwood’s portrayal of Robert makes sense because of who Francesca is. Or who she is to him. As a man he is the opposite of an open book, but Francesca brings a new man out of him. Someone new and foreign and wonderful and way outside of his comfort zone. The audience gets to see him experience himself, in a sense, alive for the first time. What Robert wants in the piece ends up being something he has never wanted before.
Why is it important to tell this story?
Honestly, for me this story is a reminder to continue developing and cultivating the passion in my own marriage. Francesca desires, like any of us to be seen for the rare, beautiful, and fascinating person that she is. I think what strikes her so profoundly about Robert is that he looks at her in this way. When he looks at her, he truly sees her in a way she has never experienced before. This is the way I want to look at my own wife and the way that I want to make her feel. I hope people come away from the show desiring this for themselves in their own lives.
What is community theatre to you?
To me, community theatre is home. I basically grew up in theatres just like this one, and, in fact, my wife grew up participating in the children’s theatre troupe “Acting Up” here at Players By The Sea. Also, I’ve done a lot of performing for audiences made up of strangers, and the experience of singing for my community of friends and family is way more fun.
The theatre is a place for people to come together and be challenged by a group of individuals seeking to tell the truth. Sometimes the result is laughter and sometimes tears. But every time, a piece should try to shed light on what it means to be human. In community theatre I think the audience gets to be a part of this just a little bit more. Many audience members will be financial supporters of the organization and many in the audience will know some of the actresses/actors on the stage. Also, people in the audience will know each other. And maybe the conversation the piece creates will reverberate just a little bit longer due to this.
What do you hope audiences leave thinking or feeling after the show is over?
I would hope the audience would leave feeling the desire to experience passion and connection in their own lives. To leave considering the relationships they themselves might take for granted, and to leave with a sense of purpose towards fostering growth in their own relationships.
Any other words you'd like to share?
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank Lee Hamby, Suzanne Hudson-Smith and Zeek Smith for their trust and support.
See David Diehl as Robert Kincaid in The Bridges of Madison County here at Players by the Sea from January 25 - February 16. Tickets are available at playersbythesea.org or by calling 904.249.0289.