From The Guardian:
Joan Didion’s memoir about trying to come to terms with her husband’s death has become ‘the indispensable handbook to bereavement’. Then her 39-year-old daughter also died. As The Year of Magical Thinking comes to London, David Hare describes the challenge of bringing one writer’s grief to the stage.
You may say the story of The Year of Magical Thinking is of a woman who has to do what is, for her, the hardest thing in life: to admit her own helplessness. The distinctive power of the play comes from the fact that it is written by a non-believer. Unlike previous popular works on the subject, it offers no comfort. In facing death, Joan tells us we are facing meaninglessness. And yet, in spite of the classical seriousness of the theme and the disturbing closeness of the events – Quintana had died at New York Cornell only six months before we began working – I made a conscious decision to behave as if this were a play like any other. Nothing, I thought, could be worse than to go into this project aiming to wrap the author in cotton wool. If she could face down the horror, then so could we. Indeed, I suspected the very reason Joan was doing the play was to return herself to a version of normality. The most unhelpful thing I could do would be to go round with a long face.
Later, deep in rehearsals, Joan would recount her anger at a mourner who had come up to her at John’s funeral and told her how terrible she must be feeling. Joan had taken the woman’s words not as an act of consideration, but of aggression. If she hadn’t been feeling terrible before, she certainly was now.