What do you do when your world is forever changed in an instant? If you are an ordinary person you struggle through the grief. If you are a writer you may try to write your way out the despair. If you are Joan Didion, you write a book and then that book becomes a play in which she tells us all that we will go through that “Year of Magical Thinking” when you cannot give away your husband’s shoes because he may need them when he comes back. Of course, you know he will not come back because he is dead. Talking one moment and dead the next.
The Studio 620 in collaboration with The Dali Museum presented this play, The Year of Magical Thinking, at both venues, directed by Bob Devin Jones and starring, in a one woman performance, Roxanne Fay. Everything about the production is simple, a single wooden chair on stage, a haunting melody, an understated costume of gray skirt, top and jacket, the no-nonsense haircut reminiscent of Joan Didion and the mostly matter of fact style with which she tells us, the audience, that we will go through what she has gone through. We may grieve differently but we will grieve.
Didion’s husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne died on December 30, 2003 of a massive heart attack as the couple were getting ready for dinner having just returned from the hospital where their daughter Quintana was in a coma battling pneumonia and septic shock. Didion recounts her struggle through the year after husband’s death and her attempts to deal with her daughter’s illness and eventual death. A year in which she cannot bring her husband back or keep her daughter safe. Fay’s performance is like controlled chaos, teetering on the edge of a breakdown. A breakdown that does not happen in public but which you are certain happened on lonely nights as the world she knew changed forever in an instant.
The show is over now but if you get the chance to read the book or see a production, do it. It will happen to you someday, too.