Saturday, September 1, 2007
I'm just back from New York City where I saw Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway. I wish she'd seen me, too, because that might mean I'd have her autograph on my Playbill. I attended — "participated in" is a better way of putting it — one of her last Tony-nominated performances of Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking." What a combination of outstanding writing and acting!
Didion managed to turn the worst time of her life — she lost both her husband of forty years and her thirty-nine-year-old daughter — into first a moving memoir and then an amazing play.
Add the lovely hands and voice of Redgrave to Didion's powerful prose and you have ninety minutes of magical theater.
When asked in an interview how she could write about her grief, Didion's reply was that there was nothing else to do: "I had to write my way out of it."
There wasn't a dry eye in the Booth Theater the night I was there, but that wasn't because everyone felt sorry for Joan Didion. Well, maybe a little. And maybe a little because of being only a few rows from Vanessa Redgrave, considered one of the greatest actresses of our time. But mostly the emotional connection was due to the universal expressions of the two women, one behind the scenes through her words and the other in front of the footlights, living it in the moment.
To mix metaphors a little here, I'd like to quote John Steinbeck: " — a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last."
I'm sure we've all tried to write our way out of one trauma or another, but Didion and Redgrave were able to find the place where the story was about all of us. Not in its particulars, but in its emotional reach. It's a tough job, but in the end, the only one for a writer.