"Only connect," said E.M. Forster, in his novel Howard's End, and that seems to be the overriding problem in The Year of Magical Thinking, the adaptation of Joan Didion's memoir (by Didion),into a drama, starring Vanessa Redgrave, that opened recently at the Booth Theater. A bit of history: After the death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne on December 30, 2003, Ms. Didion, wrote a memoir, detailing her life that next year, and the absurd notion that carried her through it, namely, that if she performed the right actions, such as not throwing away any of his shoes, for example, she could somehow reverse his death. By not admitting he was dead, well, he wasn't dead. Hence, the title, The Year of Magical Thinking-- for what else can we call something so delusional, but understandable.
Added to the original catastrophe,, Ms. Didion,had a second tragedy: the death of her only child, Quintana, who died, shortly before the memoir was published.(Ms. Didion has included a scene in the stage production to cover that event.)
Granted these events, singularly, or together are devastating, powerful enough to break our hearts at a single reading. Why then wasn't I moved by the action on stage. Certainly it wasn't Ms. Redgrave's fault. This magnificient actress gave a truly warm and dignified performance. And the minimalist staging by Bob Crowley, a bare stage, except for a wooden chair, in front of fabric backdrops, that fell to the floor periodically, did nothing to lessen the somber tone. But somehow director David Hare has let the play get away from him. There's that failure to "connect" the words being spoken to the emotions behind them. And that's too bad, because, sooner or later, as Ms. Didion points out, this experience will happen to all of us.