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‘The Bridges of Madison County’

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One number is a dot. Two numbers form a line. Three data points, all moving in the same direction is a trend. The description is a journalistic axiom, which isn’t always true even with three numbers, but it’s one County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was hoping he wouldn’t see.

After two days of small increases in hospitalizations, with a rise of four on Monday and a gain of 18 on Tuesday, Bellone was looking for the numbers would change direction.

He got his wish, and then some, as the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 fell by 62 to 773.

The downward trend “has returned” and is a “great result today,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

Officials at Suffolk County have been hoping to meet a number of metrics that are necessary to consider a phased reopening of the economy.

Helping to lower the number of hospitalizations was a return to the trend among patients discharged, with 85 people leaving the hospital in the last day, which is well above the numbers who returned home in the previous two days to continue their recoveries.

The county is hovering near the hospital capacity of 70 percent for overall beds and for Intensive Care Unit beds.

Hospitals admitted 43 new patients in the last day due to DOVID-19, which is above the 30 the county or lower the county is hoping to hit.

Simon Properties, the owners of locations like SmithHaven Mall in Lake Grove, had originally said in a memo dated May 6 it planned to open its New York locations, including the two listed, only a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York Pause order expires. The company has since stated online it does not intend to open up its properties, and will comply with state and local guidelines.

Businesses like the malls will “follow executive orders, which are lawful orders,” Bellone added.

While downstate regions have not met the U.S. Centers For Disease Control requirements to open their economies, Brookhaven town is set to reopen some marinas, following limited opening of beaches last week. Marinas include Port Jefferson Harbor and Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai, amidst several others on the South Shore.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to increase in the county, with 733 additional people testing positive for the virus over the last day, bringing the total to 38,985.

As of press time, Governor Cuomo’s office hadn’t updated the fatality data connected to the virus.

Testing in hotspots such as Wyananch and Huntington Station continues, with 1,097 positive tests coming back from 2,651 results, for a 41 percent positive rate, which is still above the 34.6 percent rate for the county.

Separately, Bellone, along with Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner Geraldine Hart, announced a dedicated line for phone scams, 631-852-SCAM (or 7226). Residents can report any scam attempts to this line. The phones will be staffed from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

“If someone is asking you to send them money, check with relatives or authorities before you do that,” Bellone cautioned.

In response to concerns raised about the potential rise in child abuse amid the lockdown, Bellone said the Department of Social Services is “aware” that situations in families that had issues before are “not going to get better in crisis situations.” He said there had been increased staffing at DSS to handle any future reports or increases.

Finally, as of yesterday, the number of police officers who have tested positive for COVID-19 was 87, with 77 of them returning to work.

*Update: Simon Properties has since said they are not reopen its New York malls come May 16. The following is what was originally included in the article.

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York Pause set to expire on May 15, Simon Properties indicated today that it planned to reopen the Walt Whitman Shops in South Huntington and the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove.

Those high traffic malls have been mostly vacant since the start of the pandemic, while Simon Properties list multiple COVID safety protocols, including preemptive employee screening, occupancy limitations and monitoring while encouraging social distancing, officials were not ready to give the malls the green light.

“All indications are that there will be some extension” in New York Pause, at least for Suffolk County, Bellone said. He anticipates a phased reopening may start sooner in upstate New York, which hasn’t been hit as hard as New York City and Long Island.

Businesses like the malls will “follow executive orders, which are lawful orders,” Bellone added.*

TracyLynn Conner and Brian Gill in a scene from 'The Bridges of Madison County'

By Michael Tessler

You know you’ve seen an incredible production when you find yourself pondering your own life and place in the universe after exiting the theater. That was the case last Sunday afternoon after attending a production of “The Bridges of Madison County” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

TracyLynn Conner and Brian Gill with the cast from ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Based on the award-winning novel by Robert James Walker and the beloved film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, this musical adaptation has a score worthy of Broadway, and Theatre Three provides a cast equally deserving of that designation.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, this is an unconventional love story. Not cliched but brutally honest and so refreshingly human.

As not to spoil much, we meet our protagonist Francesca, an Italian refugee fleeing a war-torn Italy and a life she’s ready to leave behind. To accomplish this she marries Bud Johnson, a simple-minded but well-meaning American soldier who left life on the farm to serve his country. Both travel back to the United States where they build a home and a beautiful family. Their son Michael doesn’t want to live the life of a farmer like his father; their daughter Carolyn, however, embraces it as she trains an award-winning steer for the annual state fair.

Francesca, lovingly called Fran by her husband, longs for the life she dreamed of as a little girl. She feels it is far too late to begin anew, and while there is food on the table, there’s no money for her to visit her home in Italy and the life she left behind. So she settles for a life as a farmer’s wife, trying to find contentment packing lunches.

From left, Marissa Girgus, Dennis Creighton, Steve McCoy, TracyLynn Conner, Matthew Rafanelli and Ella Watts in a scene from ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Everything changes for Fran when her husband and children take a trip to the state fair. She gets a rare opportunity to breathe and relax. That is until a beat up pickup truck rolls into her driveway and with it the arrival of Robert Kincaid — a professional photographer from National Geographic putting together a photo series on bridges throughout the United States. He’s lost and needs some directions. He’s well-traveled, having just recently visited Italy and having seen every corner of the globe. Fran invites him into her home and, by extension, her life. Thus her world changes forever.

Though I won’t spoil the rest, the show is a real treat. You’ll feel just about every emotion in the book in this two-act musical. Once again Jeffrey Sanzel shines as a director capable of any genre. His unique vision can make a timeless story feel brand new again.

Undoubtedly some lines are picked up directly from the book and film adaptation, but Sanzel’s production takes you for a ride in that worn down pickup truck. You get a glimpse into someone’s world, and that’s a beautiful thing. Sanzel guides his incredibly talented cast, making it impossible not to feel for these characters. I found myself so invested in characters who managed to emote so much in such a short time. Sanzel has no problem setting the bar higher and higher with each passing performance.

This show’s phenomenal cast certainly made his job easier though! Leading the production is the show’s star, TracyLynn Conner who portrays Francesca. First off, her accent is marvelous and never breaks even once. Her voice is one of the finest I’ve ever heard on a stage. Operatic, emotional and just so beautiful to listen to.

Much credit goes to Jeffrey Hoffman who handled the show’s musical direction and turned this small cast into an incredible musical ensemble.

Matthew Rafanelli and Ella Watts

Fran’s husband Bud is played by Dennis Creighton, who really captures the essence of the character and shows his musical tenor in the show’s second act and final number. He’s accompanied by two incredible young actors — Ella Watts as their daughter Carolyn and Matthew Rafanelli as her bookish brother, Michael. I was particularly impressed with Watts. This former star of NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live!” has a voice so incredibly refined that you wish she had even more time on stage. Rafanelli really shines in his role and you’ll find yourself constantly rooting for him and his dreams and flashing back to your own childhood sibling drama. No doubt we’ll be seeing both actors on stage many times in the future!

Theatre Three veteran and Bryan Cranston look alike Steve McCoy remains one of my favorite company members. He plays Charlie — the friendly, simpleton neighbor of the Johnsons and provides comic relief throughout some of the show’s tougher moments. His wife Marge provides nonstop laughter followed by some incredibly endearing scenes. She is portrayed by the incredibly talented Amy Wodon Huben.

Brian Gill’s low and powerful voice brings Robert Kincaid, the world traveling photographer to life. His duets with Conner are some of the highlights of the show. His personality is infectious and translates beautifully on stage.

Last, though certainly not least, is the incredibly diversified performances of Marissa Girgus who plays not one but over four roles. She steps into each of them flawlessly, creating performances both touching and comedic. I felt all sorts of emotions during her nothing short of groovy performance of “Another Life.”

Being a smaller cast, you can get a sense that each character was crafted to perfection not just by the actors but by their director. They feel so real and so dynamic, which is exceptional as several actors play multiple roles … something that usually takes you out of an experience but now suddenly enhances it.

Brian Gill and TracyLynn Conner

My favorite part of the show (outside of its cast) was its unique score, which combines two radically different genres to make something genuinely unique. Strings played as though from the Italian countryside, harrowing and haunting — a reminder of an old world, an abandoned life combined with the lively sound of the great American Midwest, and the wholehearted lifestyle of the American farmer. For a brief moment these sounds clash into something unique and unforgettable.

This may be one of the most beautiful sets I’ve seen at Theatre Three. Randall Parsons transports you to the great American Midwest. Robert W. Henderson Jr., the show’s lighting designer, ensures the light breaks through the barn wood in spectacular ways. One can’t help but feel nostalgic when looking at the kitchen they designed as well.

From top to bottom this show is local theater at its finest. Provoking several audible gasps from the audience followed by thunderous rounds of applause, “The Bridges of Madison County” is something you wish you could photograph and treasure forever.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Bridges of Madison County” on the Mainstage through Oct. 28. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 not permitted. Contains adult subject matter. Parental discretion is advised.

A special event, “Behind the Curtain with ‘The Bridges of Madison County’” will be held on Oct. 22. Join Director Jeffrey Sanzel, musical director Jeffrey Hoffman and actor TracyLynn Conner for a freewheeling exploration of this powerful contemporary musical. The full buffet supper and talk will begin at 5 p.m. $30 per person. The event will be followed by the Mainstage performance of “The Bridges of Madison County” at 7 p.m. Tickets for the performance may be purchased separately.

For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.