Chicagoans currently can see two solo tour de force performances on the boards: Brian Dennehy in Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” at the Goodman and Mary Beth Fisher in “The Year of Magical Thinking” at Court Theatre. While more theater-goers have seen Dennehy’s performance, you should head to Hyde Park this week for the final performances of the Joan Didion play.
While I’ve usually viewed Didion’s writing as too cool, controlled and detached, I found the move from page to stage made her story more gripping. Fisher’s remarkable portrayal mad it easier to picture Didion navigating the various stages of grief she endured during the year in which she lost both her long-time husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, but also her daughter, Quintana or Q-Roo.
We witness the dispassionate journalistic observer, Didion’s preferred identity, give way to a traumatized woman who adopts a form of denial, called “magical thinking”, to convince herself that Dunne has only gone out and will soon return. Eventually she admits, “I was crazy for a while”.
Fisher holds the stage—and audience—in her grip for 90 minutes (45 minutes longer than Dennehy) using the full range of her acting repertoire–movement, voice and gesture–to tell Didion’s tale. Fisher has appeared at Court in six previous productions.
However, director Charles Newell, in an after-performance discussion, said that he did very little directing and let Fisher find the character and the play’s heart in what he called, “The Gospel According to Joan”. I experienced an emotionally-charged moment at the very end when Fisher, who had been speaking to the audience throughout, moves to a chair and turns away from them. She has nothing more to say and must now face her solitude and grief alone.