ACT’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ Fleshes Out an Author’s Bereavement

A memoir of grieving becomes a tour-de-force monologue
| Updated: July 30, 2019
Suzanne Bouchard as Joan Didion

The “magical thinking” in the title of this solo show, based on journalist/screenwriter Joan Didion’s 2005 memoir of the same name, refers to the reality-denying, OCD-like bargains Didion made after her husband, John, died in 2003: If I do this and not that, she confesses, the past might somehow be rewritten. 

In 2007, Didion then adapted The Year of Magical Thinking into a play, incorporating parts of Blue Nights, written about her daughter, Quintana, who was ill when John died and, horrifyingly, passed two years later. ACT’s production, with Suzanne Bouchard as Didion, opened Thursday. The audience isn’t eased in—the monodrama opens with a description of John’s appallingly sudden and unforeseen death. Balanced between a reportorial recounting of events and an examination of her own responses to them, Didion’s script is a searing portrait of not only her own grief, but of the business (the stagecraft, in a sense) of death: ambulance rides, hospital procedures. 

When you go, which you should, note how Bouchard fleshes out Didion’s words—probing but detached, and the more compelling for it—with visceral emotiveness: heartbreak, of course, but also a lot of anger and plenty of wry wit. Not one split-second of the 100-minute, intermissionless show is less that wholly gripping, but the rehearsal process between her and director Victor Pappas must have been just as fascinating. (I don’t recall ever seeing a theater performance that has made me wish there were a making-of documentary about it.) Of the production’s ultra-minimalist elements (a floor of wooden slats, subtle projections on the back wall, one table, one costume), the most telling is Rachel Beaver’s music: mostly solo cello, added in tiny but deeply affecting brushstrokes.

Times and prices vary. Ends Aug. 11. ACT - A Contemporary Theatre, downtown, 700 Union St.; 206.292.7676;

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