City Theater Company (CTC) returns to the stage in 2023 with
the one-woman autobiographical The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan
Didion. The play is based on
her bestselling memoir of the same name and stars Mary Catherine Kelley in the
titular role. The production takes place
in the cozy Wings Black Box at The Delaware Contemporary (TDC) on the
Adapted by the author for Broadway in 2007, the award-winning play
is a riveting and heartfelt elegy that expands on the book, which won the
National Book Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The work explores Didion’s grief following
the deaths of her husband John Gregory Dunne and daughter Quintana Roo.
|Mary Catherine Kelley stars in The Year of Magical Thinking at CTC.|
Photo by Jim Coarse/Moonloop Photography.
In what amounts to an extended soliloquy, Didion recounts her
journey of loss, perseverance, and hope by using her signature wit to draw an
intimate portrait of the resilience of the human heart. Kelley is moving as Didion…taking the
audience with her as she flutters between recounting good times and lamenting the
present without her loved ones. It’s not
an easy line to walk, but Kelley deftly brings you inside Didion and her
family. The lack of stage microphones
heightens the intimacy as we hear every quiver in Kelley’s voice and each bold
statement of resilience.
The production is directed by CTC Artistic Director Kerry Kristine
McElrone, who has opted for simplicity and straightforwardness in her guidance
of the action. Kelley isn’t asked to more
than be human and share Didion’s complex thoughts on death and dying. That’s no small task, but by getting down to
basics, the message becomes more powerful.
Kudos to set designer Rick Neidig and lighting man Stuart Thomas
for keeping things simple and effective, like McElrone with her direction.
The play starts with death and ends with death, but there is joy
interwoven in Didion’s words. “I love
you more than one more day” is a sort of mantra recalling the special bond
between lost husband and daughter. These
aren’t distant figures, but spirits you feel are in the theater with you. Kelley was powerful when describing how she
would brush “Q-Roo’s” hair and repeatedly brought up her daughter’s
Back in 2007, the New York Times called The Year of Magical
Thinking “a report back from an emotional abyss, yet for all its intensity,
it isn’t grim or overwrought. It’s
rigorously self-scrutinizing, dryly self-mocking, fairly stunned-somehow both
unsentimental and consumed with love.”
So what exactly is “magical thinking,” according to Didion? The play mentions anthropological ties to
mysticism, but from the stage action it seems to be more of a modern optimistic
reality. The script takes on a better
pace at the first inkling that Didion truly recognizes a death in her immediate
family – stepping out of initial denial.
She continues to revisit better times and sometimes felt her loved ones
were still with her, but as the dialog progresses, the audience realizes that
Didion has come to a sort of acceptance.
It’s a powerful journey that is navigated with aplomb by CTC.
Winner of the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction, The Year
of Magical Thinking is one of many celebrated books by Joan Didion. She was a member of the American Academy of
Arts and Letters, which awarded her its 2005 Gold Medal in nonfiction. She also received the 1996 Edward MacDowell
Medal, the 1999 Columbia Journalism Award, and the 2002 George Polk Book Award.
CTC’s mission is to create a body of work that takes risks
and breaks barriers — just as TDC’s is to take risks and push boundaries. Both institutions are invested in promoting
the work of local and emerging artists, advancing opportunity and growth by and
for the community, and welcoming all those looking to experience art.
The Year of Magical
Thinking will run Friday and Saturday nights through February 18. Curtain is at 8:00pm and run time is
approximately 100 minutes without an intermission. City Theater Company’s home is at The
Delaware Contemporary located at 200 South Madison, Wilmington, DE 19801. Tickets ($30-45) can be purchased at the box
office or online. Special ticket pricing
is available for military personnel and students.
Please call the box office at (302)220-8285 or
email email@example.com for details.