The Year of Magical Thinking
Didion’s 2005 memoir recounts an almost unimaginably difficult period, during which her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, dropped dead of a heart attack, and her only child, Quintana Roo, was shuttled in and out of hospitals with an array of ailments including septic shock and a stroke before succumbing to pancreatitis at the age of 39. It’s possible that in adapting her book, Didion has composed a monologue both utterly compelling and ultimately unstageable. In the memoir, likely Didion’s masterwork, this “cool customer” (as her hospital social worker puts it) uses her expertise with tone and the telling detail to confront the extremities of love and loss. “Columbia Presbyterian” and Walter Savage Landor’s poem “Rose Aylmer” become stations in a contemporary sacramental journey.
The play shares the book’s rigorous, transcendent intensity. It also shares its author’s unmistakable diction and rhythms. So when Fisher’s performance hews to a conversational tone, it’s dazzling: suspenseful, precise, suffused with terribly won wisdom. But whenever it leaves those precincts—when a bit of stage choreography intends to suggest the author’s confusion or when Fisher strains noticeably for effect—the distance between writer and performer, the fiction of the performance itself, seems a violation, like spicing up a funeral mass with dramatic gestures. Year works best when it approaches a straight reading of Didion’s book, a testament to its author’s prose but a tough nut for any director and performer, even as resourceful a pair as Newell and Fisher.