A passion for ‘Bridges of Madison County’ brings Redwood City artist home
By Sam Hurwitt
The Mercury News
4 April 2018
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Image: Francesca (played by Joan Hess, center) performs in “Bridges of Madison County” before the evocative set designed by Redwood City native Wilson Chin.
After receiving a BA in architecture from UC Berkeley and a MFA is set design from the Yale School of Drama, College of Environmental Design alumnus Wilson Chin (B.Arch ‘98) has continued on to establish a successful career designing sets for regional theaters and opera houses across the U.S., including the 2010 Broadway show “Next Fall.”
Chin got his start in the theater industry at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, and he is currently designing the company’s production of “Bridges of Madison County” at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
Chin came across this role after an impromptu conversation with company artistic director Robert Kelley a few years prior.
“I live in New York, and I was seeing a show, and randomly Kelley was there watching it as well,” Chin recalls. “I’ve worked at TheatreWorks a few times before. I did a play called ‘Tokyo Fish Story’ and a play called ‘The Lake Effect.’ I saw Kelley and I said, ‘If you ever happen to do “The Bridges of Madison County,” I want to do it.’ I don’t know why I said it; it was pretty random. But like two years later, he called me up to do it.”
Chin had no specific concept in mind for the set design, he was simply captivated by the playwright Marsha Norman and songwriter Jason Robert Brown’s adaptation of the novel by Robert James Waller, which won a 2014 Tony Award for best musical score.
“I just love the show so much,” Chin says. “It’s great music; the story is really compelling. We had all seen the original production, which was just one of the most moving, emotional experiences you could have in a theater, and to be in the room with that again was something I really wanted to be a part of.”
The play features weathered-looking rafters which loom over the stage. The rafters frame the action, not unlike a photograph.
“We approached it like a memory play,” he says. “The play spans many years, and there’s all these songs in which Francesca sings about her past in Italy and her first years in America. So we wanted to approach it all like it was this very dreamlike space in which scenes flow into each other mysteriously. The whole space feels a little bit like the bridge. We go to the bridge a few times in the show, and when we do go there you realize that you’ve been at the bridge the whole time. The world of the play is these wooden rafters that evoke Iowa, that evoke a farm house, but in particular they evoke being at that bridge again, which is the place where they first fell in love.”
For Chin, this play signifies a return to his theatrical roots: “Some of the first shows I saw were at TheatreWorks,” he says. “They did this production of ‘Once On This Island’ in the mid-’90s, when I was in high school. That was a pivotal show for me to see. I fell in love with theater by seeing it at TheatreWorks, and eventually I started working at TheatreWorks. I was a follow spot operator when I was in high school and college. And I would work at other community theaters, like Palo Alto Players and Peninsula Center Stage.”