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Theatre Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sooner or later, everyone experiences a death in the family. Nine years ago, writer Joan Didion lost her husband, then her daughter died not long after. In response, Didion wrote a remarkable and very personal memoir, which Janis Stevens brings to the stage with steely intensity.

Stevens (as Didion): This happened on December 30, 2003. That may seem a while ago. But it won't, when it happens to you. And it will happen to you. The details will be different, but it will happen to you. That's what I'm here to tell you."

Speaking as Didion, Stevens explores feelings of devastation and denial from several angles. The notion of "magical thinking" stems from the idea that her husband in particular might somehow return. And she periodically flashes back on happy times in the past, like this recollection of their wedding in 1964, in a beautiful old California mission.

Stevens (as Didion): "My plan, for San Juan Bautista was to have no entrance, no procession. Just stand up there and do it. It never occurred to me to take off my dark glasses."

There are islands of humor in this mournful play. But the weight of grief wears Didion down, to the point that she's not entirely rational, leading her to order an autopsy on her husband's body.

Stevens (as Didion): "Here was my reasoning, which for some months remained hidden, even from me. An autopsy could show that what had gone wrong was no more than a transitory blockage. If so, the reasoning went, they might be able to fix it."

Janis Stevens is spellbinding in this extended solo performance. The pain, the lingering hope, and the gradual acceptance of loss - it all comes through with sincerity, scene after scene. This is an outstanding dramatic experience, the best solo show I've seen all year. 
(Music out: Arvo Pärt, "Spiegel im Spiegel")
"The Year of Magical Thinking" continues at California Stage in midtown Sacramento through November 25th.
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