Friday, June 01, 2007

Grief Has Its Limitations

"The Year of Magical Thinking" at the Booth Theatre, May 31, 2007

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Joan Didion's memoir of the same title is the basis for the 90 minute recitation now in a limited run in New York. It is billed as a play, but with only one character's point of view expressed, it is more an abridged version of her book told aloud by the very compelling Vanessa Redgrave. It's certainly not a happy tale, of the loss of both husband and daughter in a year's time.

Miss Redgrave's demeanor and vocal qualities, though compelling in skill, don't seem to create a character of a woman in the kind of denial and grieving she describes. Attired in an off-white silk tunic over a full bias-cut grey skirt, she does mention throughout the evening of her need to maintain control, to "manage" the events as they transpire in order to correct the errors and bring her loved ones back. And, she never loses that control as she tells her story. Wouldn't this have been the opportunity to increase the drama? She does describe her emotions, but never displays them so that the audience can share this tale of grief. Perhaps it was the release of the tension of being onstage alone for 90 minutes, but I felt more emotion from Miss Redgrave as she accepted her applause than anytime before during the evening.

Bob Crowley's sets, primarily a series of abstract drops, washed in greys, evoke a cloudy sky or beach scene, each dropping through the floor to reveal the next as the tale continues.

Director David Hare is quite spare in his role here. Much of the recitation is performed with Miss Redgrave sitting in a plain wooden armchair on a bare stage. She delivers certain lines and questions directly to audience members, but these gesture feel terribly forced. It's a difficult task, setting a reading as an evening of theatre. I think his goal was to juxtapose the color of Ms. Didion's language and story against the severe neutral palette of the sets and costumes, as well as a neutral delivery by Miss Redgrave. I wish he had been more successful.

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