Advertisement
  1. Stage

Review: 'The Year of Magical Thinking' at Stageworks

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
Published Nov. 7, 2017

At the beginning of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion acknowledges that the audience might not want to hear her story because we don't think it could happen to us.

"It will happen to you," Didion says with a rueful smile, and of course she's right.

That's Didion the character, movingly played by Vickie Daignault in Stageworks' production of the play, written by the real Joan Didion, acclaimed novelist and journalist, and based on her bestselling 2005 memoir of the same title.

The memoir is about Didion's reaction to the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in 2003. During their marriage of almost 40 years, they shared their personal and professional lives, working as journalists, novelists and screenwriters, sometimes in collaboration. They also raised an adopted daughter, Quintana.

In late 2003, Quintana was hospitalized with pneumonia. Didion and Dunne came home from visiting her and were sitting down to dinner when he keeled over. As Didion tells us in the play, "He was there, then he wasn't."

The memoir captures the numbness, denial, delirium, rage and everything else that follows, including the "magical thinking" that if she did everything right Dunne might somehow come back. She even kept his shoes "because he would need them."

For the play, Didion adapted that memoir and combined it with material from another, Blue Night, which she wrote after the staggering sequel to Dunne's death: Less than two years later, Quintana died as well.

(For details about how Didion, 82, developed the play with playwright-director David Hare, and many more details about her life, see the new Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold, made by her nephew, actor-director Griffin Dunne.)

The stage version of The Year of Magical Thinking is a one-woman show. Just delivering this 90-minute monologue is a feat, and Daignault does it with skill and subtlety. She's alone on stage, but a few props and a robustly physical performance make the play much more than a lecture. Daignault doesn't resemble the real-life Didion, but that's not important — as particular as this story is, it's even more universal.

Simply dressed in a white dress and green-gold wrap, Daignault delivers her lines mostly in cool, clipped tones that convey the quality of Didion's spare, understated prose. When grief ambushes her and she finally breaks down in wordless howls, the contrast makes it all the more affecting.

Her voice is the play's central element, and the staging emphasizes that. The simple set evokes a child's drawing: the outline of a house, a bare tree and its fallen leaves, a chair, all in autumnal colors.

It's an exploration of grief that is raw and refined at once. Didion tells us near the play's end that she understands we'd like to think she's crazy. "If I'm sane, what happened to me could happen to you.

"It's safer to think I'm crazy."

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435.
Follow @colettemb.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Demetri Martin will perform at Tampa Theatre on Jan. 18. [Courtesy of the Tampa Theatre]
    'A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’ and ambitious Florida Orchestra collaborations round out the list.
  2. Ira Glass will appear at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Jan. 25. [Courtesy of Sandy Honig]
    The host of ‘This American Life’ brings stories from his years on the air to St. Petersburg on Jan. 25.
  3. "Sunset Baby" stars, from left, Aris Rogers II as Damon, Kelli Vonshay as Nina Shakur and Darren Constantine as Kenyatta Shakur. [Courtesy of the Heather Theatre]
    An activist tries to reconnect with his daughter after prison. But did “revolution” cost him his family? | Review
  4. These undated photos show William "Bill" Holley in costume during his thriving career as an opera singer in Europe from 1961 to 1984. After that, he retired to Plant City, where he never really performed opera, only singing in church and at weddings for friends and family. He died Dec. 28, 2019, at age 89. [Courtesy of Candy Greene]
    Before his quiet life of rural retirement, the Panhandle native performed in some of Europe’s most vaunted opera houses.
  5. Drumline Live will high-step through the Straz Center in Tampa on Jan. 14. [Courtesy of the Straz Center]
    Comic Matt Braunger at Side Splitters and a Duke Ellington tribute by the Florida Orchestra, too.
  6. Mike Tyson announces "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth," a one-man show on Broadway, in New York in 2012. [EVAN AGOSTINI  |  Invision/AP]
    The boxing legend and his ‘Undisputed Truth: Round 2’ will hit the Hard Rock Event Center in April.
  7. The National Theatre Ballet of Odessa, Ukraine, will present "Romeo and Juliet" at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Jan. 5. [Courtesy of the Mahaffey Theater]
    Plus, Illusionist Ivan Amodei and the Florida Orchestra.
  8. Jim Gaffigan will perform at Tampa's Yuengling Center on Dec. 31. [Courtesy of Robyn Von Swank]
    Say hello to 2020 with Moscow Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker,’ comedy shows and more.
  9. Kaenaonalani Kekoa (Jasmine) and Jonah Ho'okano (Aladdin) in the Straz Center's production of "Aladdin" in Tampa. [Disney]
    The Disney musical will win you over, thanks to imaginative effects and a couple of lively stars at the center.
  10. The touring production of "Hamilton" came to Tampa's Straz Center from Feb. 12 to March 10. [Courtesy of Joan Marcus]
    Great theater and orchestral works happened all over town this year. Here are some of our favorites.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement