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City of Conversation

By Joan Didion | Based on her memoir
Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch

October 7 – November 20, 2016
Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle

There is no way to avoid tragedy, loss or their aftermath. Yet we still hope that when faced with inescapable grief, something miraculous can emerge to ease our pain and guide us back to the joy of life. Few writers have experienced loss so suddenly and profoundly — or chronicled it as beautifully — as Joan Didion. Based on her award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking follows the iconic American author, portrayed by Kathleen Turner (Mother Courage and Her Children), as she learns to reconcile the natural instincts that drive us to bargain with the universal forces that giveth and taketh away.

The Year of Magical Thinking is generously sponsored by Andrew R. Ammerman.

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KATHLEEN TURNER (Joan Didion) returns to Arena Stage following Mother Courage and Her Children and Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Her Broadway credits include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Tony nomination), Indiscretions, The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Tony nomination) and High (also national tour). As a screen icon, Kathleen has garnered critical acclaim for her performances in films including Body Heat (Golden Globe nomination), Romancing the Stone and Prizzi’s Honor (Golden Globe Award for each), Peggy Sue Got Married (Academy and Golden Globe nominations) and The War of the Roses (Golden Globe nomination). Additional film credits include The Man with Two Brains, The Jewel of the Nile, The Accidental Tourist, V.I. Warshawski, Serial Mom, Naked in New York, Moonlight and Valentino, The Real Blonde and The Virgin Suicides. She had a starring role in the 2011 film The Perfect Family and a recurring role on Showtime’s Californication. Kathleen’s 2008 autobiography Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love, and Leading Roles secured a position on the New York Times best seller list.


JOAN DIDION (Playwright) won the 2005 National Book Award for The Year of Magical Thinking, one of 13 books she has written. Her other books include Play It as It Lays, Democracy, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album, Salvador, Miami and Political Fictions. With her husband, John Gregory Dunne, she wrote the screenplays for The Panic in Needle Park with Al Pacino, True Confessions with Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall, A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand and Up Close & Personal with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford. She received the 2005 Gold Medal in Nonfiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1996 Edward MacDowell Medal, 1999 Columbia Journalism Award and 2002 George Polk Book Award. She contributes to various periodicals, most frequently The New York Review of Books.

GAYE TAYLOR UPCHURCH (Director) is thrilled to be making her Arena Stage debut. She directed the world premiere of Clare Lizzimore’s Animal (Studio Theatre, Helen Hayes nomination). She directed the Off-Broadway productions of Nancy Harris’ Our New Girl and Simon Stephens’ Harper Regan and Bluebird with Simon Russell Beale (Atlantic Theater Company), Bethany with America Ferrera (Women’s Project Theater) and Lucy Thurber’s Stay (Rattlestick, Obie Award for play cycle The Hill Town Plays). Other regional highlights include the world premieres of Anna Ziegler’s The Last Match (Old Globe), Melissa Ross’ Of Good Stock (South Coast Repertory) and An Iliad (Hudson Valley Shakespeare and West Point Military Academy). Her production of As You Like It (Hudson Valley Shakespeare) will be reimagined for Folger Theatre this winter. Gaye Taylor is an alumna of The Drama League and University of NC School of the Arts.

DANIEL ZIMMERMAN (Set Designer)’s New York credits include Fashions for Men (The Mint, Drama Desk nomination), Kill Floor (LCT3), Suicide, Incorporated (Roundabout Theatre Company), Friend Art (Second Stage), You Got Older (Page 73 Productions) and Be a Good Little Widow (Ars Nova). Daniel has also worked with The Play Company, The Pearl, Cherry Lane, Colt Coeur and Lesser America. Regional credits include Dallas Theater Center, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Humana Festival, Center Stage, Trinity Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory, TheatreWorks Palo Alto, Portland Stage Company, People’s Light and Pioneer Theater Company. Daniel is also an affiliated artist with Clubbed Thumb.

KATHLEEN GELDARD (Costume Designer)’s Arena Stage credits include Love in Afghanistan. Recent regional credits include Peter and the Starcatcher (Actors Theatre of Louisville); Mad River Rising (Cincinnati Playhouse); Ironbound (Round House); and A Raisin in the Sun, Invisible Man and Ruined (Huntington). Additional regional credits with Signature Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, La Jolla Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory, Center Stage, Kennedy Center, Studio Theatre, Imagination Stage, Flashpoint Theatre Company, Folger Theatre, Vineyard Playhouse, Studio Arena Theater, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. Awards include 2012 Bay Area Critics Circle nomination for Ruined (Berkeley Repertory), 2012 IRNE nomination for Ruined (Huntington) and 2009 Helen Hayes nomination for The Neverending Story (Imagination Stage).

JESSE BELSKY (Lighting Designer) makes his Arena Stage debut. Recent D.C.-area productions include The Mystery of Love and Sex (Signature Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Folger Theater); Animal (Studio Theatre); and Deathtrap, Blithe Spirit and Outside Mullingar (Everyman Theatre). Regionally his work has been seen at Yale Repertory, Asolo Repertory, Playmakers Repertory and Triad Stage. New York designs include The Body Politic (59E59), puppet works Lysistrata and Women of Troy (La MaMa Annex) and My Trip Down the Pink Carpet starring Leslie Jordan. Additional credits include Lee Breuer’s opera Antigone (Athens, Greece) and his new play Glass Guignol (Provincetown Theater Festival). Jesse taught lighting design at Connecticut College and UNC Greensboro, received his M.F.A. from Yale School of Drama and is a member of USA 829.

ROC LEE (Original Music and Sound Designer) is a D.C.-based composer and sound designer. Arena Stage credits include Mother Courage and Her Children (Helen Hayes nomination). Additional credits include Dial M for Murder (Olney Theatre Center); Our Town (Faction of Fools); The Revolutionists (Catholic University); Romeo and Juliet (We Happy Few); In the Red and Brown Water, Insurrection, Begotten and Visible Impact (Georgetown University); and Sleeping Beauty (Pointless Theatre). Upcoming credits include Charm (Mosaic Theater Company), Fickle Fancy Farce (Olney Theatre Center) and In the Heights (Gala Hispanic Theatre). He holds a Master of Music in stage music composition from CUA.

KURT HALL (Stage Manager) is thrilled to be working with Kathleen again after doing Mother Courage and Her Children and Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Other Arena Stage credits include Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, All the Way, Sweat, Destiny of Desire, The Blood Quilt, Our War, The Shoplifters, Smokey Joe’s Café, Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life, Good People, The Normal Heart, Red, Ruined, every tongue confess starring Phylicia Rashad, Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies, Looped starring Valerie Harper, Next to Normal starring Alice Ripley, Awake and Sing! and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia. Additional regional credits at the Kennedy Center, Roundabout Theatre Company, McCarter Theatre Center, Shakespeare Theatre Company and Signature Theatre. Thanks to his family for all their support.

Director’s Note

Joan Didion has always been a writer of great reckoning. She does not shy away from subjects that are brutal or sad or uncomfortable or not-to-be-talked-about. In fact, she traffics in these topics.

She is at it again in The Year of Magical Thinking, urging us to confront our ideas of death and grief.

With disarming honesty, she unearths and confesses her own faulty thinking as she grapples with staggering personal loss. After her husband’s cremation, she lives in such a way so that he might come back to her. Before we can judge her “crazy” or “irrational” Didion beats us there with bracing self-awareness. She is saying simply: this is the truth of how it was for her, of how it is, of how it might be for us.

I can think of no better actress to meet the clarion call of Joan Didion’s truth telling than the extraordinary Kathleen Turner. Kathleen is formidable; she is full of depth and humor and pathos; she is not a person, we might imagine, who would suffer fools gladly. Which is why she is the perfect person to play a woman experiencing, out of character, a year of magical thinking.

Both she and Joan are iconic in their fields, masters of their chosen professions. Both of these women are tough-minded but tenderly nuanced when it comes to the human condition.

I’m thrilled to invite you into this apartment, into the presence of Kathleen Turner and the words of Joan Didion as we all have the opportunity to contemplate and plumb the great depths of what it is to be human.

Gaye Taylor Upchurch, Director


Post-Show Discussions
November 1 at 7:30 p.m.
November 3 at 8:00 p.m.
November 9 at 12:00 p.m.
November 15 at 12:00 p.m.


Audio Described

Saturday. October 29 at 2:00 p.m.

Open Captioned

Wednesday, November 2 at 7:30 p.m.

The Year of Magical Thinking runs approximately one hour and forty five minutes with no intermission.

The Year of Magical Thinking illustration by Montse Bernal.