The Year of Magical Thinking displays Stacy Ross at her best

Stacy Ross in Aurora Theatre’s The Year of Magical Thinking thru July 21, 2019

The Year of Magical Thinking: Dramatic Monolog. By Joan Didion. Directed By Nancy Carlin. Aurora Theatre Company | 2081 Addison Street | Berkeley, CA. (510) 843-4822 or visit  June 21 – July 21, 2019.


The Year of Magical Thinking displays Stacy Ross at her best. Rating: ★★★★★

Fate is not an equal opportunity purveyor of calamities that test our resolve. Joan Didion’s experiences were sufficiently dire to send her to the brink of the mental “vortex” created by death. Her husband and soulmate John Gregory Dunne died in mid-sentence, slumped in his chair with a heart attack that later lead to his death in an unfamiliar hospital.  At this time her adoptive daughter Quintana was confined to another hospital hovering between life and death. Three weeks later while attending John’s funeral Quintana fell striking her head causing a massive intracranial bleeding that was to hospitalize her many times eventually dying three years later. Whereas the journey to the sudden death by her husband was relatively short, the events leading to the demise of Quintana was much more protracted with hope being a possibility.  

Joan Didion’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated memoir The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles the mental means she used to avoid falling into the vortex. The book does not include the death of Quinta but she is included in the stage adaption as sort of a codicil to the book that is receiving a stunning staging at the intimate Aurora Theatre by Stacy Ross and directed by Nancy Carlin.

It is amazing that not a single line of pity crept into the beautifully written or the spoken words that Stacy Ross delivers in this 75 minute monolog. As Didion she invests the role with verisimilitude with muted body language, sometimes using a tremulous voice with naturalistic stage movements that allows the words to take center stage. It is an all engrossing evening with Dideon reminding the audience that it will happen to us.

The method we will take to handle the inevitable will be as personal to us as it was to Joan Dideon. She reexamines the episodes in minute detail thus allowing herself to dispassionately separate the factual from the emotional.  However the audience is emotionally drawn to Stacy Ross’ depiction of Didion who, like Job, is at the mercy of the Gods (hospitals and doctors) but is a survivor.

During the entire evening Stacy Ross projects the underlying pathos and struggle but at the same times makes us feel we are having a conversation and it might be appropriate to have a dialog.

Certainly Nancy Carlin’s direction is additive to the tenor of the evening allowing Ross to navigate the entire stage with a respite  to chair and table upstage right under a fascinating single piece of scenery that is probably symbolic of Didions shattered life. It is composed of shards of colored glass that are pieced tenuously together but sturdy enough to remain complete (Scenic design by Kent Dorsey). Oddly the sound and light design are intrusive rather than additive to the mood of the spoken word.

While the words of play earn a solid “should see”, Stacy Ross’ performance is a “must see.”

CREATIVE TEAM: Nancy Carlin – Director; Kent Dorsey–Set; Valera Coble–Costumes; Kurt Landisman–Lighting; and Cliff Caruthers—Sound; Dani Bae—Stage Manager.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of