A postcard review of Sage Theatre’s The Year of Magical Thinking

Theatre reviewer Caroline Russell-King continues with her “postcard reviews at a glance” with Sage Theatre’s season opener.

Show: The Year of Magical Thinking.

Playwright/s: Joan Didion.

Theatre: Sage Theatre, Motel Theatre, Arts Commons.

Length: One act (90 mins, no intermission).

Genre/s: Dramatic monologue.

Premise: The journey of a woman who recounted her tale of personal loss and the coping mechanisms she used to deal with her grief in the “constant absence of them.”

Why this play? Why now?: Intended for adults, this play will strike a chord with audience members who also have inevitably been confronted with loss. Each will be reminded, no doubt, of flashes of their own personal experience of grief, the rituals around death and the behaviours of those left behind.

Curiosity: I wondered what this would be like as “show business” rather than “tell business.”

Best line: “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes …”

Notable writing: The writing felt like prose rather than play script. The audience being directly addressed, rather than an active participant, was relegated to the role of “Gentle Reader” or the slightly less flattering “Dear Diary.” I was left asking why the protagonist, ostensibly the writer (a character who had written scripts), constructed a plot all in flashback, (with a plot fold) and without any real dramatic stakes. Death, while emotionally dramatic for the character, inherently, can’t be substituted for dramatic action crafted by the playwright.

Notable performances: The show is carried by Karen Johnson-Diamond in much the same way I imagine Vanessa Redgrave did in its inaugural production.

Notable design: There were no set or costume designer listed in the program and their absence was felt.

Notable direction: Directed by Jason Mehmel and assistant director Shawna Burnett, the ratio of directors to cast seemed askew. Jason says in his program notes: “I am amazed at her ability to recognize the madness of grief and to then report back from that place.” I found the reporting reflective and passive rather than compelling, but Karen still manages to bring to the fore the poignancy and humanity in this memoir.

One reason to see this show: Karen Johnson-Diamond.

(Photo of Karen Johnson-Diamond in The Year of Magical Thinking, courtesy Sage Theatre.)

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here