By Holley Adcock

I admit it was with some trepidation that I went to see the play of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking at Breckenridge’s Backstage Theatre. I knew it would be an excellent production, as that is what you can expect from the Backstage. However, Joan Didion’s exploration of the grief she suffered following the death of her husband and only child could open old wounds for anyone.

Didion, who is a well-known essayist and novelist, wrote a book as her way of coping with her loss. She later adapted her book as a one-woman play that opened on Broadway in 2007 with Vanessa Redgrave playing Didion.

Actress Patty Mintz Figel, recent recipient of a Denver Westword Best Of acting award, portrays Didion’s journey through grief in the Backstage production. She depicts a strong woman attempting to reverse loss by arming herself with both medical data and “magical thinking.” By strictly controlling her daily routine, she tries to strike the bargain that will bring her husband back or cure her daughter. She attempts to avoid familiar routes and activities that will trigger the “vortex” that will suck her down to a painful pit of memory and regret; she tries to stay in control of what is uncontrollable.

Actress Patty Mintz Figel, recent recipient of a Westword Best Of acting award, portrays Joan Didion’s journey through grief in the Backstage Theatre production of The Year of Magical Thinking. Photo courtesy Backstage Theatre

Actress Patty Mintz Figel, recent recipient of a Westword Best Of acting award, portrays Joan Didion’s journey through grief in the Backstage Theatre production of The Year of Magical Thinking. Photo courtesy Backstage Theatre

Mintz Figel’s feat of memorization for this one-woman-show was astounding. She not only had to memorize the emotionally-charged script, but also had to convey meaning of complex medical terms. Her ability to deliver lines while maintaining emotional control was impressive.

In the post-play discussion, Mintz Figel and Christopher Willard, Backstage Theatre artistic director, explained that the production was a year-long process – it involved many close readings of both book and script before memorizing the lines and determining the blocking.

I can highly recommend this production. Whether or not you have yet suffered great loss, as Didion says in opening lines of the play, “you will.” This play suggests you cannot avoid grief, but knowing it and owning it is part of the natural cycle of life.

The Year of Magical Thinking runs Thursdays through Saturdays from April 4 through April 13, 2013 at the Backstage Theatre, located at 121 S. Ridge St. in Breckenridge, Colo. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended; , at the Welcome Center and at the door.

About Holley Adcock: After over 30 years of enjoying theater in London and New York and many years of involvement in educational theater, Adcock feels fortunate to have landed in a community with a strong theater tradition. She is honored to support this tradition by serving as a Backstage Board member.

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