Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Year Of Magical Thinking (The SOB Review)

The Year Of Magical Thinking (The SOB Review) - Booth Theatre, New York, NY

***1/2 (out of ****)

When author Joan Didion's critically-acclaimed 2005 book "The Year Of Magical Thinking" finally completed its transformation to Broadway stage play in late March, a curious thing occurred.

Theatre critics who had read the original novel -- that chronicles how Didion coped with the death of her husband John all while dealing with their daughter Quintana's life-threatening illness -- provided reviews expressing severe disappointment. One of their greatest bones of contention inveighed against the show's opening salvo, "You don't want to think it could happen to you, but it will. That's why I'm here."

On the flip side, critics who confessed to never having read the original source material seemed uniformly in awe of the play.

So considering the ramifications of poring over the novel in advance or not, I made the conscious decision not to read Didion's work prior to taking in a performance over the past weekend. From that vantage point, I wanted to enjoy the play for what it is. The result: I was absolutely stunned, not only by the breadth of the heartbreaking virtuoso performance by Vanessa Redgrave, but also by the very exacting and deliberate words Didion herself chose to tell her story to a wider audience.

Coping with the death of a loved one is certainly never easy, but in a beautifully subtle, almost poetic sense, Didion through Redgrave walks herself and her audience through the inevitable phases of denial and acceptance, along with the will to persevere -- at first for the sake of keeping hope alive for the dearly departed, but then to maintain one's own solitary sanity.

I was awestruck by how intoxicating Didion's words were flawlessly delivered by Redgrave, along with the wellspring of heartfelt emotion shown when the acceptance phase finally takes hold, as well as the realization when it does. And although I have not yet read the book -- but I most definitely will now that I've seen the play -- I'm thankful I saw this work on the stage first because it dealt head-on with Quintana's death, something that was not included in Didion's written work.

No small wonder that Didion is so circumspect in deliberately cautioning her newfound audience that this indeed could happen to them. In fact, since Redgrave as Didion so gracefully girds the audience with what is unmistakably a gentle and compassionate embrace, I believe she should be praised for sharing her insights on her tremendous losses. She's certainly earned that right.

The Year Of Magical Thinking is a show that should not be missed.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Thinking: As In "What Were They (Critics)..." (March 30, 2007)
The Night Of Magical Openings (March 29, 2007)
First Night Of Magical Redgrave (March 6, 2007)
Survey Says.... (October 23, 2006)
Vanessa Redgrave to Make Broadway Return as Joan Didion (May 26, 2006)

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