By John Harper / Correspondent
March 5, 2021
If there was an Outer Banks Theater Hall of Fame, actor, writer and director Don Bridge would be in it.
For three decades, Bridge delighted audiences as a cast member of “The Lost Colony” and Theatre of Dare, mentoring many young thespians with whom he shared the stage along the way. Sadly, he was deprived of a final curtain call late last year when he died after undergoing surgery for a brain aneurysm.
Bridge was 68. He is survived by his wife, Lisa; son, Max; daughter, Alice; and two grandchildren, as well as hundreds of admirers.
“He was royalty,” says Stuart Parks, Theatre of Dare’s president. “Don was just excellent on stage.”
Bridge arrived in Manteo in the early 1990s to join “The Lost Colony,” the symphonic outdoor drama penned by playwright Paul Green that tells the story of the ill-fated 1587 English settlement on Roanoke Island. His wife also joined the cast as an actor-technician. The pair had owned and operated theaters in Durham, N.C., before moving to the Outer Banks.
He gave many memorable performances in a wide range of roles, including the lovable lush Old Tom, the stoic Father Martin and Ananias Dare, father of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World. Bridge approached each with love and dedication, according to Lance Culpepper, the play’s associate producer.
“Don was kind, gentle and a grounding presence within the company,” Culpepper says.
In recent years, Bridge was the “Sstoryteller,” who stands in the front of the stage to provide historical facts and tie scenes together. That role gave Bridge an opportunity to share the story he’d grown to know so well directly with the audience, Culpepper says.
“They connected with him because of his genuine performance and welcoming demeanor.”
The versatile Bridge also appeared in more than a dozen shows for Theatre of Dare, the Outer Banks’ purveyor of community theater since 1991. Sometimes he was a lead, other times supporting; he was always up for a challenge and displayed tremendous dedication to his craft.
“What I really enjoyed was watching Don slip into a character like a comfortable sweater,” says Gail Hutchison, who directed Bridge in the classic comedy “You Can’t Take It with You” in which Bridge played the wonderfully warm Grandpa. “He disappeared and out came the essence of his role.”
Bridge was both campy and sympathetic as Pseudolus in the farce “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” He was a perfectly snitty Felix Unger in “The Odd Couple,” and showed off his singing and dancing skills as Fagin in the musical “Oliver!”
“Don was always on-point,” says Parks, who shared a stage with Bridge dozens of times. “We could always depend on him to get us back on scene.”
Known mostly for his comedic roles, in 2019 Bridge gave a rich and nuanced performance in the two-character drama “Tuesdays with Morrie.” Based on sportswriter Mitch Albom’s best-selling memoir, Bridge played Morrie Schwartz, a college professor dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. Tim Haas, who played Albom, recalls getting choked-up by Bridge during a table read of the script.
“Don was so real when he was in character,” Haas says. “Having his guidance and friendship was a gift.”
Bridge was also a respected guiding hand behind such Theatre of Dare productions as “Godspell“ and “Annie,” which he co-directed with Jimmie Lee Brooks III and his wife, Lisa, respectively.
“He was unflappable,” says Lisa Bridge, who once portrayed Queen Elizabeth I in “The Lost Colony.” “He just wouldn’t let you fail on stage.”
The Bridges, one-time Outer Banks’ toy store owners, were working on a two-person show called “Love Letters” at the time of Don’s death. The pair met on stage in 1979 in San Antonio, Texas, and were married for 39 years. It was to be Lisa’s return to the stage after a long hiatus – a full-circle kind of thing for just the two of them.
“He was the love of my life,” Lisa says.