'The Year of Magical Thinking' Delivers Theater Magic
Fontaine Syer gives a nuanced performance at the Rep in Joan Didion's memoir.
“It will happen to you,” Joan tells us in the opening monologue of “The Year of Magical Thinking,” the one-woman show based on Joan Didion's novel of the same name at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through Feb. 30.
The play describes the state of being—part reality, part unrealistic expectation—Didon felt after her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, fell over dead at the dinner table after returning from the hospital to visit their daughter, Quintana, who lay in a coma from septic shock.
Joan, played with consummate skill by St. Louis favorite, Fontaine Syer—enters a state where on the one hand she knows her husband is gone, and on the other expects him to come back at any moment.
For that reason, she can't bring herself to throw away his shoes. After all, he'll need shoes when he comes back.
Joan deals with the situation with a steely resolve that is also woven throughout with the thread of self-doubt and confusion. She feels she must take charge of the situation because if she can control the process, she can control the outcome.
But the more she reaches out to hold onto the state of affairs, the more it eludes her grasp.
The subject matter is heavy, yet it is handled as lightly as possible in a manner that keeps the play from hitting the audience over the head with mortality, both that of our loved ones as well as our own.
There are many laughs in the play as well. Right after her husband had died and the obituary is already being written by The New York Times, Joan thinks about the time difference between New York and Los Angeles.
“I wonder if he's dead in L.A. yet?” she says, and briefly considers that if she can get his body to L.A. fast enough he will still be alive.
In the true story, daughter Quintana recovers in time to deliver the eulogy at her father's funereal, only to be struck down again and subsequently die as well. The novel—winner of The National Book Award and a Pulitzer prize—was written before Quintana's death, but it occurred before the stage version was written and was included by Didion.
Syer's performance is remarkable. Through her we see the moments of despair and of resolve, episodes of confusion against moments of striking realization, and there is no better way to see this play than in the intimate setting of the Emerson studio at the Loretto Hilton Center.
Priscilla Lindsay's direction is superb, making the most of the small stage and drawing from Syer an impressive and delicately nuanced performance.
The minimal set by Rob Koharchik and lighting by his twin brother, Ryan Koharchik, are appropriately understated.
Although mostly ineffective, Sound Designer Justin Been did a good job with what he had to do, but the fact there was sound at all was mostly a distraction.
“The Year of Magical Thinking” is a very worthwhile evening of theater, and the performance of Fontaine Syer is not to be missed.
The Year of Magical Thinking” continues through Jan. 30., at the Emerson Studio Theatre, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road. For tickets call the box office at (314) 968-4925, or visit the St. Louis Repertory Theatre website.