“The Year of Magical Thinking” (Westport Country Playhouse)

By Susan Granger

Fiercely believable Maureen Anderman gives a “must see” performance of unwavering integrity, playing acclaimed writer Joan Didion in the one-woman stage adaptation of Didion’s eloquent, National Book Award-winning memoir about the sudden death of her husband, author John Gregory Dunne, and the subsequent demise of their grown daughter, Quintana Roo. In a coolly cerebral, 90-minute lament about these two heart-wrenching events which occurred within a period of two years, Ms. Anderman’s control is extraordinary, as is her daring. She is impeccable. She is incandescent.

 

But the wry, self-indulgent play can only be called ‘troubling theater.’ Talking to the audience, Didion begins with the dire, doomsday-like admonition: “This happened on December 30, 2003. That may seem a while ago, but it won’t when it happens to you.”

 

But it has happened to me -- and probably to you. By the time you reach an age when you’re sitting in the audience of the Westport Country Playhouse, inevitably, a tragedy or loss has occurred in your life -- at least once, perhaps twice. There are the tense hospital encounters, often grotesque funeral arrangements and a detached, sanity-preserving numbness that permeates your consciousness during the mourning period. While I understand the cathartic value of theater, once you’ve lived these real-life experiences, why would you want to re-visit similar ones as an audience member -- without even the mercy of an intermission during which to make a surreptitious escape from the pervasive negativity?

 

Versatile Weston-resident Maureen Anderman stood by for Vanessa Redgrave during the Broadway production of this play and “Driving Miss Daisy” -- and now, working with director Nicholas Martin, she makes the role distinctly her own, poignantly explaining how the “magical thinking” refers to the insistent delusion of many bereaved that their lost loved ones will, somehow, come back. Alexander Dodge’s fluid scenic design, Philip Rosenberg’s melancholy lighting design and Drew Levy’s subtle sound design facilitate the elegant simplicity of the austere production.

 

“The Year of Magical Thinking” plays through June 30. For more information, visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call 203-227-4177 or 888-927-7529.


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