Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Year of Magical Thinking
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Kathleen Turner
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
In 2004, Joan Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking as a way to cope with the sudden death of her husband, author John Gregory Dunne, and the serious illness of their daughter. Didion adapted her memoir for the stage in 2007, adding information about her daughter's death in 2005 from a subsequent illness, and now the thoughtful and passionate Kathleen Turner has returned to Arena Stage's Kogod Cradle to bring Didion's story to glowing life.

On Daniel Zimmerman's comfortably lived-in-looking set with bookshelves and a writing desk, Turner commands the audience's attention from her first entrance and never lets up during the 100-minute performance. She makes sure the audience knows that the story she's about to share is also their story: "It will happen to you. I'm telling you what you need to know."

As directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, Turner as Didion makes a pot of tea, fusses with sofa cushions and paces through the apartment as she recounts not only the facts—her husband's sudden collapse, the ambulance, the mess the EMTs left behind—but also her ways of coping. On the outside, she could keep going and accept that John was dead; underneath the surface she could allow herself to believe that he might return to her. She never wallows or breaks down; she's a journalist and a fiction writer, so she uses words to share her experiences and express her feelings.

Part of Didion's gift, beautifully expressed by Turner, is how easily, even casually, she guides the viewer (and the reader) through experiences from different times and places. She lays out the settings of her life, the California homes and New York apartments, the visits to Europe and time spent on movie sets, the memories of her husband and daughter at different ages, and she never loses focus and works her way through to a resolution.

Arena Stage
The Year of Magical Thinking
October 7th – November 20th, 2016
By Joan Didion, based on her memoir
Joan Didion: Kathleen Turner
Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch
Kogod Cradle, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

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