Joan Didion is reporting back from the edges of grief. It’s her year of magical thinking, where to process what is going on in her life, she has to find a way to suspend her logical mind. We all find ways to carry our grief and Joan is no different. In Sage Theatre’s stage production we catch a glimpse of what it was like for Didion after her husband suddenly dies from a heart attack and she has to take care of her ailing daughter. The Year of Magical Thinking is a solo show by Karen Johnson-Diamond in the small space at the Motel Theatre, and intimate show where you cannot look away. Sometimes the prognosis isn’t positive.
The show talks about the things that Didion did in the midst of grief. How she made arrangements, because that is what you did. That’s what was expected of you. She also outlines how this will happen to you at some point in your life. Didion tells the story of losing her husband while trying to keep her daughter alive.
It’s storytelling that you can’t look away from, which is one of the play’s successes. It’s a full story that doesn’t gloss over life events and puts on a happy face. It doesn’t give you a story with a bow, because some stories are not built that way. It’s realistic and that truth is ever present. One of the play’s struggles is its ability to dip into visceral feelings within grief. Didion is still measured and reasonable, almost like she is telling you about events that happened, instead of events that happened to her. She never loses control or does things that are inherently unhinged and grief has an element of thinking that you’re insane to it.
Johnson-Diamond’s portrayal of Didion is quite deep and she had to be vulnerable to do this solo show. Jason Mehmel’s direction has Johnson-Diamond moving around a space stage that could use some more props to illustrate the story. But otherwise Johnson-Diamond is all you need, especially when she comes to the sides of the stage and doesn’t let you go.
The Year of Magical Thinking is a strong account about grief, but it’s lacking that overwhelming emotional pull that has you drowning in grief for a short with Joan.
Sage Theatre’s production of The Year of Magical Thinking runs until October 6th. More information is available online.