Leland and Gray Players host alumna’s one-woman  play, ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’

Grief is a shared human emotion.  But the experience can only be yours.

YOMT FlyerL G draft04This is the essence of Joan Didion’s play, The Year of Magical Thinking,  to be presented at Leland and Gray in Townshend Wednesday, October 7 at 7:30 PM.  The piece explores how Dideon coped with the sudden passing of her husband—author and producer John Gregory Dunne—while their only daughter was in a coma after being hospitalized just five days earlier.

Fort Collins Bas Bleu Theatre Co. artistic director Wendy Ishii, Leland and Gray ’65, transforms Didion’s own grief and unexpected loss into a stunning and award-winning one-woman play. Bas Bleu was recognized for its artistic achievement at the 2013 Colorado Community Theatre Coalition (CCTC) festival with the company winning first place show and Ishii being awarded the best actress award. Ishii also received Culture West’s “True West Award “for Best Solo Performance and Westword’s “Best One-Person Show Award” for her portrayal of Joan Didion.

 

Didion and Dunne—married 40 years—were each New York literary and Hollywood screenwriting giants.  “They made a mint on the movie A Star Is Born starring Barbra Streisand,” wrote John’s brother Dominick Dunne in a 2004 Vanity Fair article. It’s fitting that Bas Bleu’s production of Magical Thinking features its own Hollywood-New York connection.

Award-winning director Oz Scott (The DistrictCSINCISFor Colored GirlsThe UnitIronside, Gotham) and Ishii met at Vermont’s Marlboro College, where they worked together on several productions. Decades later, the two reconnected on Facebook and talked about doing a play together.  Scott says he has become the “king of one-person shows,” and Ishii wanted a challenge.

And this play is indeed a challenge. The subject matter is sensitive; but in the capable hands of Didion, one can understand why her memoir by the same title—upon which the play is based—gained immediate acclaim as a classic in the genre of mourning literature. Didion won the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction  and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for biography/autobiography.

According to Scott, the play reflects the story of a woman who experienced a tragic year, and how she persevered to reach a more accepting place. While the story may be specific to Joan Didion, the theme is universal. Didion wants the audience to understand her experience, because it will happen to you—and you will survive it. But it will be hell.

For instance, Didion recounts, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We know that someone close to us could die. We might expect to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect to be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy -- cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.” And the author concludes, “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves, there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.” 

Ishii said one thing Didion taught her was to be able to let go—let your loved one become the photograph on the table—and then enjoy the memory.

One performance only is offered Wednesday, October 7, 7:30 PM at Leland and Gray’s historic Dutton Gymnasium to launch the Players’ 20th anniversary season with a celebration of alumni in the performing arts.   Admission at the door is $10 for adults and $5 for students.  Advance sale tickets are $8 and $4. Write verbatim@svcable.net  to reserve and for more information.

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Quotes from reviews:

“Ishii is a terrific actress…she shapes her own large talent to the contours of another artist's consciousness. There's a single moment when she reveals the chaos within; for the rest, she's restrained and controlled, giving a quietly penetrating performance that withers the soul.”  ~ Juliet Wittman, Denver Westword

“Sure, one-person plays present a different rhythm than more traditionally structured plays, but when crafted well and performed with discipline and grace, they illuminate with their first-person confidences and wash over us with more universal undercurrents. Ishii conspired with television, theater and film director Oz Scott (For Colored Girls ...) to bring this play to Bas Bleu. In 2009, the stage adaptation had a Broadway run starring Vanessa Redgrave.   While one can imagine a very different performance from Redgrave, Ishii's approach has a natural and gripping authority.” ~ Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post 3.5 stars; "2013 Top Ten”

“While this is obviously a very personal take on the grieving process as Didion points out in the first scene, it is more than that, as Ishii so eloquently shows us in her everywoman portrayal. Ishii shows us the emotional tension building beneath Didion’s seemingly rational surface.” ~ Bob Bows, Colorado Drama