Sunday, May 19, 2019
‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ Stars Claudia McCain
Claudia McCain, a native of Louisiana, has played in a multitude of plays, including “Sylvia,” “Wit” and “Clybourne Park.” She also directed last year’s stage reading of “Diary of Anne Frank.”
Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Joan Didion was an editor at Vogue magazine when she met John Gregory Dunne, then a reporter for Time magazine.

The two married, co-authored a column in the Saturday Evening Post and wrote scripts for movies, such as “A Star is Born,” Play It as It Lays,” “The Panic in Needle Park” and “True Confessions,” which was loosely based on the Black Dahlia murder.

And so, when her husband slumped over dead of a heart attack while their daughter lay in a coma, Didion addressed her grief the way she knew best—through her writing.

“The Year of Magical Thinking’—an account of the year following her husband’s death—became a classic book about mourning. It was named the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography.

And it starred Vanessa Redgrave when it debuted on Broadway in 2007.

Now, Claudia McCain is poised to take on that one-woman show at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at the new Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum. The play reading, produced by Jon Kane’s Sawtooth Production, is free and will include complementary wine, as well.

A question and answer will follow the reading.

The show will be directed by Clove Galilee, a New York/San Francisco director and a 5-foot-2 dynamo. Galilee is the daughter of Ruth Maleczech and Lee Breuer, who founded New York City’s experimental theater company Mabou Mines.

Galilee herself is the artistic director of Tricksaddle, which has staged performance pieces combining theater, dance and music at many of New York City’s premiere venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, The Public Theater and La Mama.

“She started acting when she was 3 and had her first speaking role at 5,” said Kane. “She was just named one of the women to watch in American theater.”

Claudia McCain has been a fixture on the stage of Sun Valley since 1980 when she starred with Kathy Wygle, Bill Nagel and David Blampied in Woody Allen’s “God.” She since has appeared with a variety of other theater companies, including Company of Fools, St. Thomas Playhouse and Sun Valley Shakespeare Festival.

“Joan Didion is one of the great literary geniuses of our time,” she said. “When you get to do a play like this, it’s a gift, like when I got the chance to do ‘The Belle of Amherst,’ the one-woman play based on the life of Emily Dickenson.”

The title--“The Year of Magical Thinking”--refers to the idea that if a person hopes for something hard enough or performs the right actions that an unavoidable event can be averted. In one case, for instance, Didion describes how she can’t give away her husband’s shoes because he could need them when he returns.

“This happened on Dec. 30, 2003,” she starts off. “That may seem a while ago, but it won’t when it happens to you.

“And it will happen to you…” she continues.

“Is there anything more universal than love and grief?” McCain asked. “She wrote this book as a coping mechanism and it became an international best seller so obviously it connected with people.

“This is a journey. She’s recorded the experiences she went through when she lost her husband and daughter and her descriptions are so clear you can envision everything.”

Dunne and Didion were literary soulmates. Their lives were entwined as they worked in the same room, reading and editing each other’s work.

Unable to have a child of their own, they adopted a daughter whom they named Quintana Roo. She was 37 when she became comatose with septic shock resulting from pneumonia. Five days after she went into the hospital, Dunn died of a widowmaker heart attack, a blood vessel totally blocked.

Didion describes how she’s haunted by questions concerning her husband’s death, including the possibility that he sensed it in advance and whether she might have made his remaining time more meaningful.

Even as she works through her grief, Didion shares some beautiful memories of her husband and daughter during times when everything felt “like it was safe and in place,” McCain said. “It reminds us to look for such moments in our own lives, rather than blow over them.”

To prepare for her role, McCain watched a Netflix documentary about Joan Didion called “The Center will Not Hold.” And she has been memorizing the script with a computer nearby so she can look up medical references and the people that Didion refers to.

“She had all these people come to her house, including Jim Morrison of the Doors and the filmmaker Steven Spielberg. I just talked to a local person who once had dinner with her,” McCain added. “And I’ve found the way she structures language interesting, as well. It seems fragmented—almost like poetry sometimes is.”


Sawtooth Productions, formed to produce “My Name is Rachel Corrie” in New York and San Francisco, will stage John Patrick Shanley’s play “Outside Mullingar” at April 3-7 at the Argyros Theater. The play will star Claudia McCain, David Janeski, Aly Wepplo and Andrew Alburger.


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