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Shows Worth Seeing:


The Year of Magical Thinking
By Joan Didion
Booth Theatre
222 W. 45th St.
Box office: 212-239-6200


Chances are, you have heard that the majestic Vanessa Redgrave can’t pull off a convincing imitation of brittle Joan Didion in Didion’s stage adaptation of her memoir of mourning, The Year of Magical Thinking. Why so many have assumed that this theatrical character must resemble its author is truly a mystery. John Lahr, in The New Yorker, has been harshest, suggesting that the basic exhibitionism of the theatrical occasion vulgarizes Didion’s book. I urge readers to see the show and keep their minds open. For reasons I won’t speculate about, it has prompted a strange eruption of anti-theatrical prejudice among some of New York’s most prominent theater critics, who have seen it as sullying the book’s presumably unalloyed sincerity. That is nonsense. The book’s very existence was evidence of artistically alloyed sincerity from the beginning; for one thing, it was a fascinating public display of grief from a famously WASPish author whose reputation rests on a powerfully self-possessed style.

Redgrave doesn’t try to channel Didion or even Didion’s narrator but rather plays a character based on them, with a different, equally plausible personality. This character is more forceful and expansive than Didion’s narrator, but the two share the essential steely journalistic impulse to profile themselves at a time of crisis, documenting their day-to-day experiences as precisely as possible, as if factuality itself might provide succor. It’s true that the result is not emotionally overwhelming, but that is true of the book as well. Both works are astonishing spectacles of sobriety, candor and precision under duress, employing seeming artlessness to probe beneath easy sentimentality. The comfort of hard, clear vision is preferred to the deliverance of tears. That may not be what some theatergoers want to see, but it’s the play that’s there. It’s also, in most important respects, faithful to the original.






By Peter Morgan
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 W. 45th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200







If not for Frank Langella’s extraordinary performance as Richard Nixon, Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon would be a largely forgettable docudrama lacking the capacious vision of a substantial historical play. The subject is the series of televised interviews that British talk-show host David Frost conducted with the ex-President in 1977, in which he apologized (sort of) for Watergate. This incident surely counts as obscure for most theatergoers nowadays, so its major implications need to be made very plain and convincing. Morgan unfortunately settles for a few tired truisms about the power of TV and our collective obsession with superficial imagery; his regard for historical accuracy is also spotty and casual. It’s Langella—supported impressively by Michael Sheen, as Frost—who gives the production pith and gravity. Langella plays Nixon not as a failure or clown but rather as a deeply and slyly intelligent politician unthreatened by Frost yet struggling with a kind of suicide drive. The fascinating spectacle on view is an internal drama that Langella makes unforgettably visible and palpable: Nixon deciding for himself whether he wants to fade from public view or try clawing his way back to power and influence. Forget the hunching, jaw-jutting and obvious bitterness of Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s film Nixon. Langella’s character is dignified and self-possessed, his resentments and antipathies under clear control—except, crucially, for his self-loathing. Watching this man turn decisively and destructively inward is, strangely enough, one of the most powerful dramatic climaxes of this Broadway season.



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