Anne Kraft wasn’t wild about Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” when she first read the book, and she found the stage version difficult to perform.
“It was a challenge,” Kraft said. “But I fell in love with it. Through working on it, I learned to love it.”
She came to love it so much that her current performance at Salem Theatre Company will be Kraft’s fifth appearance in the play.
What made the story difficult to present on stage was not so much the tragic nature of its material, she said, as “the way it’s written. It’s an emotional journey. It’s memory, it’s now, it bounces all around. It’s different in that sense.”
The book, which Didion adapted into a one-woman play that appeared on Broadway in 2007, recorded a double blow in the famous writer’s life. Her husband, novelist and screenwriter John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack in December 2003 at age 71. A few months later, their adopted daughter and only child, Quintana Roo Dunne, suffered a brain hemorrhage. She died not long after the book was published, at age 39.
As Didion examines her experiences of loss and grief, her focus shifts to accommodate a range of feelings, memories and associations. These include moments of “magical thinking,” or childish beliefs about reality.
For example, Didion refused to give away her dead husband’s shoes because he would need them if he ever came back to life — and donating them would acknowledge that he wasn’t going to do that.
Other, seemingly random ideas and associations can intrude in her narrative, but they all belong to the process of coming to terms with overwhelming events.
“It’s a constant jumping act,” Kraft said. “As an actor, you’ve got to find the connections. I didn’t have them the first time I did it. I still find new meanings to things.”