The Year of Magical Thinking, by acclaimed American writer Joan Didion, based on her memoir and starring Dorothy Ann Gould, and directed by Mark Graham Wilson, makes its Cape Town debut at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, from 3 to 28 July 2018.
Following its hugely successful run at the Market Theatre earlier this year, the profoundly moving one-hander sees one of South Africa’s most celebrated and respected actresses return to the Baxter stage, teaming up again with producer, writer and director Graham Wilson. Most recently Gould received the Naledi Innovation in Theatre award for her significant contribution to the advancement and development of South African theatre through her vision and commitment.
This production marks Mark’s return to theatre directing after an absence of several years, during which he focused on television which include being artistic director of Generations, head writer of Scandal!, story liner on Binnelanders and director on Isidingo and Sewende Laan. The Year of Magical Thinking is a journey through one of the most universal experiences of human suffering: bereavement.
Frequently harrowing, often amusing
Described by American arts critics as “spell-binding” and “masterful”, the play is frequently harrowing, often amusing, yet ultimately, it is an expression of the power that love can offer to give life meaning.
First directed by David Hare and performed by Vanessa Redgrave at the Booth Theatre in New York in 2007, the production ran for 24 weeks, such was its popularity. The memoir, upon which the play is based, won the National Book Award in 2005 and was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
It chronicles the year following the death of Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne – an unexpected and sudden end of a 40-year partnership – just days after their only child, Quintana, had fallen dangerously ill and slipped into a coma.
Faced with the unshakable finality of John’s death, Joan’s normally rational thought processes took a less than pragmatic turn. She found herself, for example, keeping his shoes, reasoning that he would need them when he returned. Slowly she had to recognise that, although she was going through the motions associated with the rituals of closure, she was, in fact, longing to perform an impossible trick: to bring John back. Her memoir is the story of the year she spent wishing – her year of magical thinking.
During the New York promotion of the then recently published memoir, Quintana became seriously ill again. Sadly, following massive brain surgery, she died at the age of 39 years.
Loss and The Year of Magical Thinking
Six months after her second tragedy, Didion began working on turning her memoir into a play. This time she was dealing, not only with the loss of her partner, but with the loss of her entire immediate family.
Although it is Didion’s story, she makes her dramatic adaptation as much about her audience as herself. She is a woman who has lived through and survived immense loss and she pulls her audience into that space.
Joan Didion’s career
Joan Didion’s career started at Vogue magazine from where she went on to become renowned as the writer whose work defined US culture in the 60’s and 70’s. Her writing is characterised by “her signature lyricism and savvy” (The Guardian). For much of her career, she worked closely with her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The two co-wrote many screenplays and screen adaptations, including Up Close and Personal (1996) and A Star is Born (1976), which is set to be remade for a third time in 2018 starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. A documentary on Didion’s life entitled Joan Didion: The Centre Will Not Hold was released on Netflix at the end of 2017.
What: The Year of Magical Thinking
Where and when: Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 3 to 28 July 2018