Jason Robert Brown on Writing THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY

“The story found us (Book Writer Marsha Norman and Brown).

“Robert James Waller’s agent approached Marsha to adapt THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, and she immediately knew this would be our project. I had never read the novel but I regarded it warily — I was a 22-year-old single guy living in Manhattan when it first came out, and I was not, to put it mildly, the target audience — but Marsha saw in it a deeper resonance and a fiercer moral energy than I would have perceived, and she sold me on the struggles of these two broken characters who each see a piece of themselves trapped inside the other.

“I suggested we conceive it as an octet, a piece for eight lonely voices on a large stage. The piano reflects my energy back at me, neurotic and complicated — I know the instrument so well by now that I sometimes have to wrestle with it to make it surprise me, and I knew that the skittery and dense music that the piano and I traditionally made together wasn’t the right sound for this piece. I’d played guitar the way most guys who hang around rock bands play it — I knew a couple of chords and I could keep time relatively well — but I felt the guitar was my way in to the world of the Johnson family in Winterset, Iowa, in 1965, so I bought a black Takamine and hoped for the best.

“From the beginning, the music flooded out of me, music that I didn’t entirely recognize as my own but that was clearly speaking some revelation I had yet to confront in myself. I felt myself sometimes butting up against the corny, the cheesy, the sentimental, but I decided in those moments to push harder through it, not to be cynical about love or family but to sing about them with ecstatic truth.

“We can love in many different ways, and we can love different things simultaneously. It is hard — it is insane — to place one love above another.

“With every show I’ve written, I begin thinking it’s just a job, the story doesn’t have anything to do with me, and I end by realizing I have exposed some deep scary part of myself. I am unspeakably grateful to my beautiful family for holding our lives together while this score got pushed out into the world — I spent four years learning about Robert and Francesca and figuring out how and why they made the choices they did, and this show celebrates, in many ways, the staggeringly high price and the even greater value of the commitments and the choices we make to build a home.”

— “The Bridges of Madison County Discovery Guide,”
published by the Center Theatre Group’s Education
and Community Partnerships Department