Opening Nights: Wicked and The Year of Magical Thinking

PICK: WickedParamount Theatre, 911 Pine St., 467-5510, stgpresents.org. $30.50–$83.50. 7:30 p.m. Tues.–Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends Oct. 4.When Wicked debuted on Broadway in 2003, The New York Times ripped it to shreds. But it broke box-office records and became one of the most successful musicals in history. After visiting Seattle in 2006, the show is now back for a whopping five-week run. Selling tickets hasn't been a problem.Wicked fulfills nearly every convention necessary for a teenage rom-com. Following the opening scene, in which the citizens of Oz celebrate the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, the story flashes back to the day a green-skinned, brainy college girl named Elphaba (Donna Vivino) met Glinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz). Glinda is bitchy and blonde, so everybody loves her. Both girls are horrified when they end up roommates, and even more so when they realize they both like the same boy, a hottie named Fiyero (Richard H. Blake).Wicked's songs sound as if they were produced by Max Martin, and the funky, colorful costumes look designed by Betsey Johnson. The sets are drenched in glitter and colorful lights. It's pure pop—saccharine-sweet, shiny, and sleek. And that's why it's fun as hell. People love Wicked. And sometimes, as a bitchy blonde once astutely noted, it's all about being popular. ERIKA HOBARTThe Year of Magical ThinkingIntiman Theater, Seattle Center, 269-1900, intiman.org. $10–$55. 7:30 p.m. Tues.–Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.; 2 & 8 p.m. Sat.; 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sun. Ends Sept. 20.Forty-something years ago it occurred to writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne that they shared a soul, and that perhaps they shouldn't ever be physically apart for longer than absolutely necessary. As work-at-home writers, they were indeed able to fuse like two trees rooted in the same pot. What did not occur to them, or rather to Didion, is that one evening in 2003 Dunne, 71, would drop dead of cardiac arrest while she tossed a salad and he sat a few feet away, discoursing on World War I.A year later, Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking—first as a book, then as a one-woman play—to make sense of the unthinkable. Within two years of Dunne's death, their daughter also died of complications from a pernicious flu. Didion is quite candid, in the book and the playscript, about her need for "therapeutic writing." And except for a few derisive remarks about self-pity, she simply does what she needs to do.As theater, Year is not pretty, nor ugly, nor, for long stretches, particularly interesting. It is the work of grief: the churning and obsessing, and ultimately documenting and releasing, of large quantities of artifact-like detail. The piece is almost avant-garde in its seeming lack of concern about whether it is of interest to anyone else. It is a massive, end-of-the-day emotional yard sale, and whatever doesn't sell will go to Goodwill.The Didion character begins her widowed life as an emotionally paralyzed controller who always must have the final word and superstitiously believes her thoughts determine reality (if I fly west to Malibu fast enough, John won't be dead there yet). She winds up letting go of those delusions. That is the dramatic arc that unsuccessfully tries to sustain this 110-minute open house of the broken spirit.The Intiman production makes some choices that render it even harder to relate to than the Broadway version starring Vanessa Redgrave. As the sparrow-like Didion, New York–based Judith Roberts plays up the writer's urbane, bicoastal "lifestyle icon" side rather than the post-shock, bare-faced everywoman personified by Redgrave. She sports an elegant up-sweep, fire-engine-red lips, and Eileen Fisher chic. Director Sarna Lapine has her speak in an imperious, Brahmin tone, perhaps to set up a "further to fall" kind of dynamic, but the pomp is only alienating. I found myself annoyed with the author for trying to command our attention through her connections and literary-royalty status, rather than by creating something striking or original.Regardless of Didion's many years in New York, her real-life persona remains that of a mousy if aloof Okie from Sacramento, a shy sylph equipped with intellectual inclinations and insights. Roberts' brasher, stylish interpretation, while apparently a crowd-pleaser, felt at odds with Didion's larger message about the humbling, crazy-making rawness of grief. I felt guilty relief at moments when Roberts—whose own illness delayed the play's opening a week—muddled her lines or had an unintended coughing outburst. Finally she seemed human.But I do not fault her for a bloated, self-indulgent text that feels three hours long. For that I blame film producer Scott Rudin, whose terrible idea it was to have Didion turn her book into a play. It is a commonly held point of etiquette that things said by a grieving spouse in the aftermath of a death should be received with a sort of gracious amnesia by anyone who overhears. These are private things made semi-public by accident, by vulnerability, and shouldn't be exploited or held to account. MARGARET FRIEDMAN

 
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