BWW Review: ACT's THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING Gives an Open and Honest Look at Grief
"This will happen to you." That's one of the opening sentiments of Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking", currently playing at ACT. "This will happen to you." She's referring, of course, to the fact that everyone, sometime in their life, will have to deal with the death of a loved one. Maybe you already have. Maybe you're dealing with it right now. Or maybe you've been lucky enough to avoid it thus far, but it will happen to you. How you will deal with it, well, that's the question. But how Didion dealt with it and the eloquence she used in conveying her personal tragedy to the world is the crux of the play and the folks at ACT handle that with honesty, vulnerability and openness.
In Didion's play, stemming from Didion's book, which, of course, stems from Didion's life, puts Didion front and center, as played by Suzanne Bouchard, recounting the time following the death of her husband and how she handled it as well as the tragedies to follow. We hear about Didion's internal coping mechanism of making sure she dealt with everything as expected in an effort to game the system and, thus, bring back her husband with what she called "Magical Thinking". But before you think that this will be an evening of depression and delusion, I assure you that when seen through the lens of such a consummate storyteller as Didion, the journey is far from bleak. Honest and raw but filled with humor and heart, the play takes you into an experience that for many will resonate with their own experiences. I know it did for me.
And when in the hands of Bouchard and director Victor Pappas, the piece hooks into the audience without becoming gratuitous or someone else's therapy on stage. On the contrary, Bouchard and Pappas have created such a safe space in the telling of these events that you never feel the threat of any triggers, but they allow you to follow the story while reflecting it against your own story without fear.
Bouchard, as usual, is incredible in the role. She disappears into the character and her stage presence is without peer. As one of the best actors in town, it's a pleasure to see her tackle anything, but especially this meaty role that's all her, all night. She manages to take the audience by the hand and when she relays the phrase Didion would say to her daughter, "You're safe, I'm here", the same could be conveyed for the audience with Bouchard there for us.
I remember seeing this piece several years ago and while a beautiful story, it had some issues. With Bouchard telling it, there's no obstacle to your immersion into the play and coming away knowing you've seen something special. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ACT's production of "The Year of Magical Thinking" a sentimental sigh of a YAY. Bouchard is one of those people where you'd be fine listening to her read from the phone book, so when she's reciting the words of Didion, it's magical.
"The Year of Magical Thinking" performs at ACT through August 11th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.