April 1, 2007

True Magic in "The Year of Magical Thinking"

According to theater legend, Michael Redgrave was on stage playing Laertes to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet on the night of January 30, 1937, when word came that his first child had been born. At the curtain call, Olivier made an announcement to the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he is said to have said, “tonight Laertes has had a daughter, a great actress has been born.” The baby was named Vanessa.

Olivier may have been indulging in one of the extravagant gestures for which theater people are known, as Redgrave speculated in an interview (click here to read it) she gave Bob Costas in 2005; or he may have been acknowledging that the baby was the scion of a theatrical family that dated back to her grandparents Roy and Daisy; or maybe he was clairvoyant that night and actually able to see what a dazzling star the infant would become. For over the 40 years of her professional career, it has been hard to look anywhere else when Vanessa Redgrave is on stage or screen. There is nowhere else to look at the Booth Theater where Redgrave is starring in the one-woman show, The Year Of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s adaptation of her award-winning and bestselling memoir about mourning the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne. And I couldn’t imagine wanting to look anywhere else.

I had met Didion and Dunne once briefly when they were coming in and I was leaving the Christmas party of a mutual friend back in the ‘90s and later, having recently suffered a loss of my own, I had read the book with deep interest and loved it. But I wanted to see the show because of Redgrave. Some critics have complained that the play lacks dramatic tension and that Redgrave is too actorly in the role. But I found both the show and the actress devastating. For me, the true magic in The Year of Magical Thinking, and in all her performances, is Redgrave’s ability to convey, with the smallest gesture—the slight trembling of an outstretched arm, the unblinking bewilderment in a stare—the fragility of life. Because she is tall and big-boned and regal in bearing, the feeling that she could shatter at any moment seems counterintuitive and thus, all the more awful.

The emotional terrain she has to cover in The Year of Magical Thinking’s 90 intemissionless minutes is particularly precarious. And although I knew that Didion had survived the ordeal and the later death of the couple’s only child and that I was there because I know how adept an actor Redgrave is, I found myself, literally on the edge of my seat, wondering if both the character and the actor would make it. Redgrave does, of course, and making the journey with her creates the kind of catharsis that theater was created for.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. How great. Can't wait to see it, especially after reading your comments!

Anonymous said...

"maybe he was clairvoyant...to see what a dazzling star the infant would become." Smarmy much, O "reviewer?"

"There is nowhere else to look...where Redgrave is starring in the one-woman show."

"Nowhere else to look" is praise for Redgrave?

Because somehow I was given to believe that it's a one-woman show.

Harmon said...

I loved reading your comments on " The Year of Magical Thinking" I have not read it, but now I will. And if I were in the Apple I would check out the Play as well. Thanks for the touch of life....Recent and long gone Deaths still hurts my soul...

Anonymous said...

I wish you would indicate which plays are still running on Broadway, and if there's any expected closing date!

CVan Brunt said...

This blog is like a refresing taste of New York Theatre for those of us away too long, but have you thought of how useful this insightful conversation could be extended to your Chicago sister's theatrical life as well?

We think of ourselves as the Second City, but then in theatre, we don't really think that way. I would love to see a cross-metro conversation and you and your blog are just the ones to get it going.
Windy City Theatre Goers would love to share theatrical conversations with the Big Apple......