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The Year of Magical Thinking at the Market Theatre is a journey through that most universal experience of human suffering: bereavement. The Market Theatre presents this play by Joan Didion based on her memoir, starring Dorothy Ann Gould and directed by Mark Graham Wilson from March 9 to 31.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
So, begins acclaimed American writer Joan Didion’s memoir of the year following her husband, John Gregory Dunne’s, death. The unexpected event ended a partnership of 40 years in a second, 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 began 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 recently published memoir, Quintana became seriously ill again. Following massive brain surgery, she died. She was thirty-nine.
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. The character in the play is Joan, but also not Joan. She is a woman who has lived through and survived immense loss, and she pulls her audience into that space with the admonishment contained in the opening lines:
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.
The Year of Magical Thinking is a journey through that most universal experience of human suffering: bereavement. It is frequently harrowing, sometimes amusing and, ultimately, an expression of the power love has to give life meaning.
The memoir upon which the play was based won the National Book Award in 2005 and was a short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award.
The play was first directed by David Hare and performed by Vanessa Redgrave at the Booth Theatre in New York in 2007 where it ran for 24 weeks. The South African premiere, starring Dorothy Ann Gould and directed by Mark Graham Wilson, opens at the Market Theatre on 9 March and runs until 31 March 2018.
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 characterized 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.