And so far, the reviews for the adaptation of Joan Didion‘s bestselling memoir THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING – playing at the Booth Theater until June 30 – are, shall we say, less than kind. “An arresting yet ultimately frustrating new drama,” says the New York Times‘ Ben Brantley, and he’s being one of the more generous critics. Peter Marks at the Washington Post also wanted to like it but said the one-woman show starring Vanessa Redgrave “is too much like an austere alternative to “Oprah,” an adaptation that replaces the supple mystique of the book with the driest kind of earnestness.”
But most of the vitriol is dished out by the Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout. He admits up-front he wasn’t a fan of Didion’s original memoir: “I found it hard to shake off the disquieting sensation that Ms. Didion, for all the obvious sincerity of her grief, was nonetheless functioning partly as a grieving widow and partly as a celebrity journalist who had chosen to treat the death of John Gregory Dunne as yet another piece of grist for her literary mill.” So when the show opens with a speech that, in Teachout’s words, “has all the subtlety of the proverbial blunt object,” he figures his reaction to the adaptation and to Redgrave’s performance (“she never lets you forget that she’s acting”) won’t be very positive. By the end, after which the lights obligingly go up on a billboard-sized reproduction of the glossy dust-jacket photo of the author and her family, Teachout “half expected Ms. Didion to be signing books in the lobby after the show.” Ouch.