A guide through grief
The Year Of Magical Thinking might strike people as bit of a downer at first glance, actor Cathy Downes says.
‘‘Lovely title, but it’s about death and dying. I don’t think I’ll go there.’’
But writer Joan Didion’s account of her inner turmoil after her husband’s death is more about coping with her grief and emerging from the other end, she said.
‘‘Every person on the planet is going to go through it or has gone through it,’’ she said.
‘‘Grief is a place that none of us know until we get there.
‘‘We are all going to die, we are all going to lose somebody. It’s not about death and dying. It’s about how we live.’’
Didion, a journalist and author, had been dealing with the serious illness of her daughter, Quintana, when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack.
Her reaction at the time was considered cool, but as her book and play reveals, her apparent calmness was her coping mechanism.
‘‘Joan, like many of us, had to feel absolutely in control of the situation, even after her husband had died,’’ Downes said.
‘‘ She was managing the situation, cross-checking all the doctor’s reports, getting an autopsy done. . . It was her way of managing.’’
While Didion seemed to be managing the situation, she was unable to even throw out her husband’s shoes.
‘‘ What profoundly struck me on delving into the play was how powerful the mind is and how trite the intellectual level is,’’ Downes said.
For a year Didion couldn’t write, but then began to keep notes for the benefit of Quintana, still in a coma.
Didion’s detached, professional analysis of her own emotional turmoil and distorted rationality became The Year of Magical Thinking, first a book and then a play.
‘‘[The play is about] what you hold on to, what you are unable to hold on to . . . and how you learn to let go of the past and move into the future,’’ Downes said.
After Didion finished the book, Quintana also died.
Didion realised what she was going through was harmful to herself and to others, and developed the book into a very different play.
The Year Of Magical Thinking, directed by Susan Wilson, is on at Circa Theatre until September 8. Visit www.circa.co.nz or call 801 7992.
Self analyst: Catherine Downes plays author Joan Didion in her darkest hours.