Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Year of Magical Thinking"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"The Year of Magical Thinking"

by Joan Didion

Directed by Eric C. Engel
Scenic Design by Matthew Whiton
Lighting Design by Shawn E. Boyle
Costume Design by Mallory Frers
Assistant Stage Manager Tiffany Allen
Production Stage Manager Kate Croasdale


Nancy E. Carroll

Sunday 11 January '09
He called around eleven, wanting to talk. Tomorrow he'll hear results of tests. There is cancer in the upper left quadrant of his lungs --- at least --- of that he's already certain. (No one ever enjoyed a good cigarette more than he.) He lived through those AIDS Plague Years in which every single Thursday another close friend's memorial service would be announced, so that he, and oddly I, both face the possible end of fifty years of conversations with an eerily calm resignation that drives his friends up a wall. Send not to know for whom this bell tolls. But at least he, and I, know and can think about it all, and the Tao Te Ching has taught him that life, like water, flows downhill to fill all hollows, without emotion. We will not be blind-sided, twice, by the hockey-stick of death as was Joan Didion when first her beloved husband then her newly-married daughter died and left her to sort out the left-over shards of life. Maybe I was lucky, this afternoon, to have Didion, in the person of Nancy E. Carroll, sit alone on The Lyric Stage quietly explaining what it's like to survive. It tolls, of course, for thee --- but, surviving? And examining it clear-eyed enough to explain it to others? Ghod that takes guts. I hope, if I must, I can summon a fraction of the guts Didion and Carroll and Director Eric C. Engel and the Lyric Stage staff had to bring this experience to me at just the time I need it most.

Ms. Carroll comes in holding a copy of Ms. Didion's book, sits in a beautiful comfortable chair, long legs crossed at the knee, and begins to talk, using Didion's "I" and, through an hour and more, meeting every pair of eyes in that room at least once with direct honesty. The words are bitten into phrases between which pauses let the words sink in. "This is what you will need to know," she says, "when this happens to you --- and, one way or the other, it will."

Didion, a writer married to a writer she always trusted to be honest, dealt with double death by writing, by turning her world into words. Carroll does it with those pausings, with an occasional lapse into internalized whisper, with flashes of self-amused wit or wonder at the oddity of the truth she's relating. She is sincere, perhaps a little teacherish about the universals we share --- including a willful habit of ignoring the inevitable --- and, as all actors try and good ones succeed, she becomes those words.

The words themselves swirl about in repeating spirals; the mind often says things that only a moment later it realizes needs explanation. It flips from living experiences again to footnoting them with facts anyone unfamiliar with them might need, and repeats phrases, or ideas, that take on added meanings in new contexts. It holds the solid, lancing details that hurt so much under a clear-eyed microscope of writing that makes them, almost, bearable. It separates experiences from itself, from the writer living them and explaining them, from the actor speaking them, from the audience allowed this quitely, finally calm entrance into a soul in the midst of loss. Mourning, it says, is a unique experience faced by everyone. Get used to it.

He will call me, probably late tomorrow night --- he has others needing to be called first --- and, once we know more, we will deal.
Until then, there is this blindingly beautiful theatrical experience I have to try to review; I hope I can do it justice.


"The Year of Magical Thinking" (2 - 31 January)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON
1(617) 585-5678

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide