The Year of Magical Thinking -- Westport Country Playhouse
By Roz Friedman
I really did not want to see and suffer through The Year of Magical Thinking again. But I am so glad that I did. The Westport Country Playhouse production playing through June 30 is a revelation. Joan Didion's loss of both husband and daughter in the same year was first delineated in her novel and then in this one- woman play, is truly tragic and heart-wrenching. However, Maureen Anderman, under the sensitive direction of Nicholas Martin, gives such a nuanced performance for one and one half hours without intermission that she eclipses Vanessa Redgrave's portrayal. Anderman even manages to find some humor in the part, giving a welcome lift to the recounting of the terrible tale. I usually doze off in one person shows, but I never closed my weeping eyes here.
Many have lost a spouse and/or a child. Joan Didion, a famed writer, was married to her husband, John Dunne, also a successful writer, and mother of an adopted daughter, Quintana Roo. In December of 2003, she and John had just returned from visiting their grown daughter, who had been placed in a medically-induced coma, when he dropped dead in front of her. Her daughter, after many hospitalizations, and newly-married, dies, as well. An unbearable burden.
The difference between ordinary people and Didion is that she began writing about the experience and 88 days later had herself a best-selling book, which then became a play. In both, she asks the questions we all have asked about life and death. What could I have done to prevent this from happening? Did I miss the clues? I was their protector, assuring them they would be safe. I must manage this. When she rides to the hospital in the ambulance with her husband, she knows he has died. But because she has always organized things, she thinks that if they transfer him to the hospital they go to regularly, he will still be alive. She even asks, when planning to call the newspapers in California, is he dead on Pacific Time? She tells us that her behavior is somewhat of an act; the hospital personnel, her friends, think she is a cool customer -- meanwhile she is seething inside, reviewing every second of their wonderful lives together, which took place in Los Angeles, Hawaii and New York.
The set is calm and soothing with a view and sounds of the sea, designed by Alexander Dodge, lit softly by PhilIp Rosenberg, with the Sound by Drew Levy.
Maureen Anderman, white-haired, dressed in a perfect pale grey three piece loose pants outfit relates the story very matter-of-factly with a touch of irony. I think it is a feat that she can repeat this perceptive and remarkable performance without falling into a deep depression. The audience I was in on the Wednesday matinee, predominately older, did not give her a standing O, which she so richly deserved. I imagine they were too drained emotionally.
The Year of Magical Thinking at the Westport Country Playhouse playing now through June 30, 2012.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO