The Year of Magical Thinking chronicled the year following the death of Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, who died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest in 2003. Blue Nights, her highly anticipated follow-up memoir, focused on her daughter, Quintana Roo, who tragically died right before The Year of Magical Thinking was published–and just two years after the passing of her husband. Written with Didion’s trademark gorgeous sentence structure and heart-wrenching honesty, the book took its readers on an evocative journey through grief, aging, memory, parenting, and finding purpose in a world where it seems there’s none left.
“I hadn’t dealt with Quintana,” Didion told the Los Angeles Times during a 2011 interview about why she wrote Blue Nights. “I had dealt with her to some extent in the play … but the play [was] a … way of preserving myself at a distance. Because as I say in the book, watching that play on 45th Street at night was one moment during the day when Quintana did not necessarily die.”
Redgrave, who won a Drama Desk Award and was nominated for a Tony for The Year of Magical Thinking, shares the unimaginable experience of losing a child with Didion. In 2009, her daughter, Natasha Richardson, died in a calamitous accident.
According to press materials, “the actress, the author and the venue have long shared an extraordinary affinity: Richardson’s first marriage took place in Didion’s home; and The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is where Quintana was married, and where Quintana and John Gregory Dunne are inurned.”
During the 8PM reading of Blue Nights, Redgrave will be joined by guest artist Jimmy Owens, 2012 NEA Jazz Master and leader of Jimmy Owens Plus, on the trumpet-flugelhorn. With all of these elements combined, Blue Nights sounds like an evening that’ll be as unforgettable as it will be poignant.
Tickets for Blue Nights range from $40-$175 and can be purchased at stjohndivine.org or by calling 212.316.7449.
PS Don’t forget to come back here for my full review after the event.
Broadway is no stranger to plays that pay tribute to Anton Chekhov.
Donald Margulies’ The Country House, the latest offering from the Manhattan Theatre Club, is easily the wittiest homage to the prolific Russian playwright since the outrageous Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Taking place all under one roof, this new play follows the reunion of a family at their summer house one year after the death of one of their immediate members. What ensues is a dramedy chock-full of revealed family secrets and issues, declarations of love, self-discovery, lust, and all-around mayhem.
Two-time Tony Award winner Blythe Danner (The Miser; Butterflies Are Free) hasn’t been in a Broadway play since 1998. Sure, she’s been in a couple of musicals since then, but Danner’s acting roots are firmly planted in dramatic productions. With The Country House, she makes a triumphant return to form as Anna Patterson, the matriarch of a family recovering from the recent death of her daughter, Kathy. Anna also happens to be a renowned stage actress, allowing for Danner to take on a self-aware role that shows off both her comedic timing and vast dramatic range. Come time for the Tony Awards, Danner could be collecting her lucky number three.
2–SARAH STEELE STEALS THE SHOW
While Danner is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, it’s 26-year-old Sarah Steele who leaves the most lasting impression after the curtain closes. Steele has been steadily building an impressive resume that boasts such television credits as The Good Wife, Girls, Nurse Jackie, and Gossip Girl. Now, her dynamic Broadway debut as Anna’s granddaughter truly announces the arrival of a new star. As Susie Keegan, Steele is simultaneously the heart of the show and its most relatable character. She keeps the rest of her family grounded by always pointing out the truth with her often hilariously dry humor, while also providing the play’s most poignant moment when she confronts her uncle about how poorly he’s handled the death of his sister.
3–JOHN LEE BEATTY’S SET DESIGN
All of The Country House takes place inside a cozy living room. Set in a house in the Berkshires, the bucolic room is decorated with big sofas, Persian rugs that clash with the furniture, rich wooden bookshelves, a carpeted staircase, pastel curtains, rustic lamps, and wide open white doors. It’s practically impossible to look at the room and not want to snuggle up under a blanket there with a cup of tea on a rainy day. The house is meticulously detailed to look like a New England utopia saturated with decades of memories, almost making it a character in itself.
4–DIVERSE DEPICTION OF GRIEF
The play gradually reveals just how all the characters have been impacted by Kathy’s death. After a year of feeling lost and depressed, Anna decides to get back into acting by signing onto a production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Acting is what she knows and does best, and she can begin to pick up the pieces of her life again by re-immersing herself in that world. Kathy’s widower, Walter (David Rasche), has already brought his new fiancée (Kate Jennings Grant) over to meet his family and help him cope with the anniversary of his wife’s passing. Elliot (Eric Lange), Anna’s son, turns to booze and drug use as a coping mechanism, terrorizing not only himself but also everyone around him. Kathy’s former flame, famous actor Michael Astor (Daniel Sunjata), is also appearing at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and crashes at the Patterson home while his hotel undergoes renovations. He remembers Kathy fondly but is riddled with guilt over not attending her funeral. And Susie, home from college for the summer, acts as the voice of reason, keeping the group from coming apart. The roles that are assigned to each of these characters illustrate not just the different ways in which people grieve, but how a person’s presence can be constantly felt even after they’re long gone.
5–COMMENTARY ON SHOW BUSINESS
Aside from Susie, every character in The Country House works in the entertainment industry. Walter, a huge Hollywood director, is perfectly content making sequel after sequel in an action franchise that sees no sign of slowing down at the box office. He’s engaged to Nell, an out-of-luck actress he happened to meet at a Starbucks following a botched audition. Formerly a theater director, Walter addresses the stigmas that sometimes come with switching mediums and the idea of selling out. On the flip side, Michael is raking in millions as the face of a mindless TV phenomenon and thus turns to classic theater as a way of validating his craft and rediscovering himself as an actor. It’s established that Kathy was a well-known actress in her own right, which makes it even harder for Elliot to step out of his family’s shadow. As a result, the failed actor turns to playwriting as a desperate attempt at calling himself an artist, but ultimately can’t make that work either. Then, of course, there’s Anna, once an ingénue and now resigned to playing the role of the “old lady” in practically any project she chooses, despite the fact that she has very many years ahead of her. All of these characters provide stark contrasts and fascinating explorations of fame, acting, and how success is measured within the context of something as subjective as art.
STARRING: James Earl Jones, Rose Byrne, Annaleigh Ashford, Kristine Nielsen, Fran Kranz, Elizabeth Ashley, Johanna Day, Byron Jennings, and Reg Rogers WHEN: Now through January 4, 2015 WHERE: Longacre Theatre / youcanttakeitwithyoubroadway.com WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: In her dazzling Broadway debut, Rose Byrne (Damages) continues to show off the comedic chops she displayed in Bridesmaids and Neighbors. With a cast that includes screen and stage legend James Earl Jones (Star Wars; The Great White Hope; Fences), the always hilarious Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), and a scene-stealing Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots), You Can’t Take It With You is a raucous comedy about an eccentric family that clashes with the conservative and rigid parents of the daughter’s fiancée when they come to dinner on the wrong night. This revival includes everything from snakes to fireworks to Russian royalty to prison sentences to ballet dancers – what more could you ask for? BUY TICKETS
This Is Our Youth
STARRING: Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson WHEN: Now through January 4, 2015 WHERE: Cort Theatre / thisisouryouthbroadway.com WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Set in New York in 1982, this Kenneth Lonergan-written play chronicles 48 hours in the lives of three materialistic teenagers. Michael Cera (Arrested Development; Superbad) makes his Great White Way debut as Warren, a dejected 19-year-old who has just stolen $15,000 from his father, while Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down) plays his drug-dealing friend whose apartment acts as the show’s setting. Rookie Magazine founder and Editor-in-chief Tavi Gevinson rounds out the cast as Jessica, a fashion student that Warren tries to impress with his newfound cash. Tackling issues of adolescence against the backdrop of the Raegan era, This Is Our Youth has all the makings of a contemporary classic. BUY TICKETS
Hedwig & The Angry Inch
STARRING: Andrew Rannells (through October 12), Michael C. Hall (starting October 16), Lena Hall WHEN: Now WHERE: Belasco Theatre / hedwigbroadway.com WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Winner of this year’s Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, the premiere Broadway production of this rock musical tells the story of a fictional rock and roll band fronted by a transgender woman from East Berlin. Hedwig tells her story in an extended monologue, recalling a romance that never came to fruition after a botched sex change operation tore the couple apart. A thought-provoking musical with a genius score, Hedwig stars Andrew Rannells (Girls; The Book of Mormon) through October 12, at which point Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under; Dexter) will don the illustrious wig of the title role. BUY TICKETS
STARRING: Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams (through November 9), Emma Stone (from November 11-February 1, 2015), Danny Burstein, Linda Emond WHEN: Now through March 29, 2015 WHERE: Studio 54 / cabaretmusical.com WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: This fall, Alan Cumming will be on your TV screen as the neurotic and brilliantly manipulative Eli Gold on CBS’ The Good Wife and at your local bookstore with the release of his gripping new memoir, Not My Father’s Son. But you’re not truly a fan of Cumming’s until you’ve seen his career-best performance as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret. Reprising his Tony Award-winning role from the 1998 production, Cumming is joined in the Kit Kat Klub by Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine; Brokeback Mountain) as the self-destructive Sally Bowles. And when Williams trades in her pink boa, it’ll be picked up by Emma Stone (The Help; Easy A) – who was originally rumored to play Bowles when this revival was first announced. With an unforgettable score by Kander and Ebb, Cabaret shines a spotlight on 1930’s Berlin when sex was rampant and the darkest period in Germany’s history was just around the corner. BUY TICKETS
A Delicate Balance
STARRING: Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Martha Plimpton, Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban, Clare Higgins WHEN: October 20 – February 22, 2015 WHERE: John Golden Theatre / adelicatebalancebroadway.com WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Three-time Tony Award-winner Glenn Close (Damages; Sunset Boulevard) makes her overdue return to the Broadway stage in this revival of Edward Albee’s exploration of a long-married couple during the course of a weekend when their daughter returns home after the dissolution of her fourth marriage. Meanwhile, their home also acts as a refuge for some of their friends and an alcoholic sister. And you thought your family reunions were dramatic. BUY TICKETS
It’s Only A Play
STARRING: Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint, F. Murray Abraham, Micah Stock
WHEN: Now through January 4, 2015
WHERE: Schoenfeld Theatre / itsonlyaplay.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Terrence McNally’s biting, hilarious satire on the world of theater makes its Broadway debut with an all-star cast. As a panicked playwright nervously awaits the reviews of the opening night of his new show, he shares his anxieties with the production’s drug-addled lead actress, a television star, a snide critic, a first-time producer, a young director, and the coat check guy. What ensues is a chaotic, and uproarious look at what it takes to put up a Broadway production. BUY TICKETS
The Elephant Man
STARRING: Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Alessandro Nivola, Anthony Heald, Scott Lowell, Kathryn Meisle, Henry Stram
WHEN: November 7 – February 15, 2015
WHERE: Booth Theatre / elephantmanbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Set in 19th century England, The Elephant Man is based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, star of a traveling freak show. As Merrick’s popularity rises, he attracts the attention of a beautiful actress who’s fascinated by his story and profound intelligence. Cooper and Clarkson have both proven to be some of the most versatile screen actors around, so it’ll be exciting to see how that translates to the stage. Sorry Ryan Murphy, but this is the freak show we’re most excited about. BUY TICKETS
STARRING: Erin Davie, Emily Padgett, Ryan Silverman, David St. Louis, Matthew Hydzik WHEN: October 28 – TBD WHERE: St. James Theatre / sideshowbroadway.com WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Academy Award-winning director Bill Condon (Chicago; Dreamgirls) makes his Broadway debut with this retooled musical revival based on the incredible true story of twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Set in the 1920s and 30s, Side Show follows the sisters’ journey as they go from being vaudeville acts to glamorous Hollywood stars, all while looking for love and a sense of normalcy under the spotlight. The original 1997 production launched the careers of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, and based on what we’ve seen so far, Davie and Padgett seem to be on the same path. BUY TICKETS
STARRING: Ramin Karimloo, Will Swenson, Caissie Levy, Nikki M. James, Andy Mientus WHEN: Now – TBD WHERE: Imperial Theatre / lesmis.com/broadway WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Ramin Karimloo. Plain and simple, Karimloo is the most talented actor to ever take on the role of Jean Valjean. Making his Broadway debut after a successful career on the West End, Karimloo has a jaw dropping voice that makes this musical soar to breathtaking new heights (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s not upsetting to look at either). With this revival, Broadway has found a leading man who has the ability to not only make an old musical feel new and exciting again, but someone who will undoubtedly become one of the most revered stage actors of our time. BUY TICKETS
The Real Thing
STARRING: Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon
WHEN: Now through Jan 4, 2015
WHERE: American Airlines Theatre / roundabouttheatre.org
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: This revival of Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed play-within-a-play explores what happens when life starts imitating art. A playwright who’s unhappily married to the lead in his current play about a marriage that’s falling apart starts to have an affair with their mutual friend. But as their relationship progresses, he starts to wonder where the boundaries between truth and fiction lie. A complex look into married life, this production promises to pack a punch as powerful as the performances within. BUY TICKETS