Metro Weekly

“The Year of Magical Thinking” at Arena Stage (review)

"The Year of Magical Thinking" is wholly, engagingly real

Kathleen Turner: Year of Magical Thinking -- Photo: C. Stanley Photography
Kathleen Turner: Year of Magical Thinking — Photo: C. Stanley Photography

It’s impossible to separate Kathleen Turner from her interpretation of author Joan Didion in the dramatization of her book, The Year of Magical Thinking (starstarstarstar).

But in many ways, that is the point. To experience this nearly two-hour monologue is to realize at once that it is not about an impersonation or the cul-de-sac of a personal memoir, but rather it is the most serious conversation possible with the adults in the room. If Turner and her majestic presence share Didion’s space in this contemplation of coping (or not) in the aftermath of profound personal loss, it simply serves to bring a brighter bulb to Didion’s deeply penetrating message: “This will happen to you. This is what it is like. You are in this.”

If this sounds heavy, well, it is. But if it is deeply unsettling, it is also a chance to see an intellect in the throes of the impossible grief of life and loss. She shows us the abyss, but she also allows us the quiet catharsis in naming our greatest fears.

But if there are no big laughs here, even the direst moments are not far from Didion’s elegant irony, wit, and dark sense of humor. And if you are curious about this remarkable writer, the medium is strongly autobiographical with snatches of Didion’s retro-glamorous life coming and going like gentle waves. Sometimes they soothe or entertain, other times they arrive bearing illustration of one of her soul-piercing points, always they build the picture of her inner as well as outer life.

If Turner does not seem quite the woman who made cozy fires against the cold California nights, she does bring Didion’s fight. With her commanding presence and gravelly poet’s voice, Turner finds the rhythms and cycles in this exploration, drawing out with clarity Didion’s home truths, her anger, her struggle with unanswerable questions. Whether as theatrical feat or in doing spiritual justice to Didion’s book, it is wholly, engagingly real.

The Year of Magical Thinking runs through Nov. 20 in Arena’s Kogod Cradle, 1101 6th St. SW. Tickets are $70 to $90. Call 202-488-3300 or visit

The Year of Magical Thinking at Arena Stage
Image for Review

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