REVIEW PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: The Year of Magical Thinking

The Black Swan State Theatre’s production for the Perth International Arts Festival 2009 is Joan Didion’s memoir The year of Magical Thinking. This one woman play, rich with pathos, exposes the beauty and terror that we all find in the transience of life, and celebrates the power of the imagination to help us survive.
REVIEW PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: The Year of Magical Thinking
The Black Swan State Theatre’s production for the Perth International Arts Festival 2009 is Joan Didion’s memoir The year of Magical Thinking. This one woman play, rich with pathos, exposes the beauty and terror that we all find in the transience of life, and celebrates the power of the imagination to help us survive. Joan Didion is a successful journalist The New Yorker Book of Reviews and The New Yorker, screenwriter Panic in Needle Park, A Star is Born, and Up Close and Personal, chronicler of her generation and now a playwright with this stage adaptation of her critically acclaimed (Pulitzer Prize nomination), award-winning (National Book Award) international best selling memoir which chronicles how she survived losing her husband and daughter in the same year. With the use of time memories to punctuate the memoir, we are guided through the year at which Didion fluctuated between formative years with her daughter Quintana and John and the ‘yielding’ years around their deaths. Didion has a distinguished skill at making the sterile palpable of the hospital visits to her daughter, and the loving excuriating for her husband around the time of his death and autopsy. The magnitude of the clinical language does not plague the theatergoer as the actor, Helen Morse is too vivid in her recounting. This visceral stage production entrances us in a personal foreign world with words, music and passionate, alluring acting by Helen Morse, one of Australia’s very notable actors of stage and screen. In this vortex, Morse sublimely weaves her own magic where any lesser actor would have come off as melodramatic. Alone in the narrative, Morse makes Quintana (her daughter) a very present character in the piece and we ride with her on her rollercoaster of emotions as she delves deeply into memories. Morse’s American accent is subtle and doesn’t cloud her emphasis, but transports us accurately to those sublime Californian holidays and tragic final moments in New York. The intensity of Morse’s connection to the story’s throughline of life’s fragility in losing a daughter is overwhelmingly powerful at times with the audience charged in response. The production’s director and artistic director of Black Swan State Theatre Company, Kate Cherry deals a richly layered, beautifully orchestrated theatre experience – stunning from the opening with its sparce setting and evocative lighting. Cherry has mastered the memoir’s staging as if we were benign voyeurs into one woman’s ‘island in the sea of life’. This is Cherry’s first production with BSSTC. Also present on stage is the musician and composer, Iain Grandage, complete with cello, creating always an underbelly to the scenarios of deep beauty in the performance. He also cultivates the climaxes through the memoir with Morse, in the playing not overshadowing but underscoring with his delicate soundscape. To complete the production team are Christina Smith whose set offers some surprising moments, and coupled with the lighting design by Matt Scott this solo piece of theatre is rhapsodic in its intensity, and pathos. PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL The Year of Magical Thinking Dolphin Theatre, UWA 7 Feb–25 Feb Tickets from $40–$48

Gillian Clark

Wednesday 11 February, 2009

About the author

Gill Clark is an arts hub reviewer based in Perth.