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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Year of Magical Thinking - an honest portrait of a unique mind

Whenever tragedy suddenly hits anyone - especially multiple tragedies - the first thing you wonder is "how will they ever get through it?" Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, impeccably performed for Theatre Kingston by Artistic Director Kim Renders, gives us one very famous, admittedly privileged, and talented woman's response to just such a situation. Not only did writer Didion's longtime life and creative partner suddenly die - but it was at a time when their only child was in a coma, with more health challenges ahead.

Far from being a formulatic, chest-thumping grief purge, the detailed script of The Year of Magical Thinking is a compellingly honest look into the very articulate, not always logical or admirable, but utterly authentic coping strategies that Didion employed to cope with her famous husband's death and her daughter's repeated hospitalizations. It was Magical Thinking - something she wasn't terribly proud of, but which sustained her, all the same. And which she shares with us.

What Didion selects to tell us about the night her husband died - and the hope-fraught time thereafter- is probably closer to an actual survivor's experience than anything you'll ever see on television -or that most people will share with you. Grief, like God, is in the details. Wanting to keep the shoes in the closet. The tone of someone's voice. The way you avoid anything that will send you deeper - until you're ready.

This show, and Render's performance are both unique and thought-provoking. While hearing Didion tell how she "did it" - you're also amazed at how Renders does it - all 90 minutes,without ever dipping into cliche or melodrama. They are telling us a story. A story about the mind. A story about life.

It is also useful information. Don't employ magical thinking to convince yourself that it isn't. As Didion says "when it happens to you - and it will" - it will be good to know that the things you think, and the things you feel do not have to be Hallmark card/grief therapy platitudes. Your own interior resources can actually get you through.

Sit, and listen. It's important information.

Lin Bennett

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gordon Lightfoot in concert- pass my cane!

Carefree Highway, one of the first songs in Gordon Lightfoot’s Kingston K-Rock Centre concert this weekend, talked about picking up pieces of a dream and wondering about how the old folks are. He certainly didn’t have to look too far, if he really wanted to know. The sea of white hairs and shining bald pates (including those of his band) was looking complacent, bored, and maybe quietly hoping for a brief reconnection with their pasts – a past where people called them “beautiful” and said they would “never stray” and the future was still ahead. The cold spotlight of a Sunday night in Kingston was telling everyone something else, however.

Now, Mr. Lightfoot indeed looked pretty good for 72 – somewhere between lanky and frail - carrying his long gray hair well and striding out in cowboy boots with heels (not orthotic runners)! But his raspy voice had definitely seen the “better days” of his Carefree Highway years –and the passion was only there in the lyrics, certainly not resurrected on stage. He didn’t even seem to try.

Okay, maybe he was protecting his voice. Maybe all his health issues over the years meant this was as good as we could expect… and, for someone who had been pronounced dead by gossip earlier in the year, he was certainly damned healthy. Still, “not dead yet” is just not a good enough reason for a concert.

“See him while he’s alive”…might imply a tribute, of sorts, and I wholeheartedly believe it’s important a figure such as Gordon Lightfoot experiences our respect now (rather than watching us from a cloud after he’s gone). Nonetheless, I couldn’t help compare the concert to the one given by Leonard Cohen, who was just a tad older when he played here at K-Rock Centre last year. Even at 3 times the ticket price, that was five times the show.

We all have icons whom we’ll forgive for almost anything. I know there are a lot of others who felt exactly the opposite about the concert: that hearing the lyrics from Lightfoot himself was enough, more than enough, to send them into raptures. That was exactly the same way I felt about the Bob Dylan concert that was publicly reviled by so many a few years ago. And yes, I teared up for Early Morning Rain. And smiled at Rainy Day People. And nodded along with Sundown. And was glad that the K-Rock sound was actually so good this time we could (mostly) understand him quite well.

But mostly, it just made me sad. I’d rather have seen him on TV.