Theater Review: Magical Thinking’ finds beauty in griefBy Jim Lowe
Jim Lowe / Staff Photo Janis Stevens is Joan Didion in Lost Nation Theater’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.”
In “The Year of Magical Thinking,” author Joan Didion exposes the strange and mysterious process called grieving. It’s powerful, compelling and beautiful because it’s hers — and it’s universal.
Janis Stevens delivered a deeply moving and beautiful performance as Didion in the author’s one-woman show, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Friday at City Hall Arts Center. The Lost Nation Theater production runs through Sept. 23.
Didion lost her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, to a sudden heart attack and within the same year, her daughter to septic shock. She recounted the emotional process that followed in her 2005 book.
The “magical thinking” in the title refers to the anthropological belief that if a person hopes and believes enough and does the right things the unavoidable can be averted. It is also a form of denial that allows a person to slow down the process of accepting a difficult, even horrific truth.
Didion recounts that although she went through the outward signs of acceptance, her deep-down disbelief was that John wasn’t really gone. In a touching moment, she admits that she couldn’t give away his shoes, because he would need them when he got back. In much the same way, Didion convinced herself that she could keep her daughter safe if she stayed with her to manage her care.
What makes Didion’s tale fascinating is not only its universality but Didion’s ability to see herself from the outside and even laugh at herself. Her story is truly insightful and wonderfully human.
Didion turned her book into a one-woman play that was premiered by Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway to great success in 2005. Redgrave then toured the world with the show, and recently it began appearing in regional theater.
The Lost Nation Theater production, directed by Kathleen Keenan, the company’s co-artistic director, benefits not only from a fine actress, but the intimate feeling it delivers.
Stevens took a most dramatic approach, sharing not only the narrative but the experience of those events. Still she kept a healthy balance between the two, as well as delivering Didion’s humorous self-deprecation. The result was a most human and riveting performance.
Casey Covey’s simple circle of a set invited intimacy, while Wendy Stephens’ creative lighting created “chapters,” giving the story some needed breaks. Only the concrete and atmospheric sound effects seemed superfluous and occasionally distracting.
Stevens’ performance in “The Year of Magical Thinking” is compelling storytelling – made even more so, because it’s real.
Lost Nation Theater
Lost Nation Theater presents Janis Stevens in Joan Didion’s “My Year of Magical Thinking” through Sept. 23 at City Hall Arts Center, 39 Main St. in Montpelier.
Curtain is at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays (except 2 p.m. on Sept. 23).
Tickets are $30; $25-$20 for Thursdays; call 229-0492, or go online to www.lostnationtheater.org.
Jim Lowe / Staff photo
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