Book-To-Stage Adaptation Lacks Drama

The Setup: The idea of adapting Joan Didion's bestselling memoir The Year of Magical Thinking to the stage sounds thrilling, and almost plausible. The book, which mostly describes Didion's emotional and mental reactions to the unexpected death of her husband, and also to the mysterious and serious (eventually fatal) sickness that descends on her daughter Quintana just before his death, is essentially a monologue.

The Execution: But what a challenging monologue. In 90-plus minutes, it conveys a novel's worth of information, presented rather elliptically, as if the audience were intimately familiar with the characters and able to fill in the blanks left in Didion's storytelling, which is mostly concerned with her struggles to keep grief at bay through a tightly controlled use of language.

It's Didion's struggle with language and control that makes the book so powerful. This material isn't really very dramatic; in fact, since we don't know the dead people she's talking about, it can get a bit tedious. The play would only be able to work if actress Claire Hart-Palumbo were able to match her performance to Didion's style. But that doesn't quite happen. Hart-Palumbo does convince as a grieving Everywidow, and is at times poignant, but she doesn't conjure Didion herself. I kept looking for the eloquent silences between the lines and behind the words that would tell the real story.

The Verdict: Despite Hart-Palumbo's efforts, this monumentally difficult character only partially comes to life.

(Through February 13. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times, 713-524-6706.)

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David Theis
Contact: David Theis