Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sanctuary ... Magical Thinking at St. John the Divine

A close friend of mine, who recently relocated (at least for the time being) to Switzerland, just sent me a message. Among other things, she wanted to remind me to get my ticket for the one-night benefit performance of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. She tells me it’s her favorite show, having nagged me to get tickets to this particular staging at St. John the Divine for the past six months.

The play, Didion’s first, is based on her memoir by the same title, which was written as an account of her grief and mourning. Didion lost her husband in 2003, and later (after the memoir was completed) her daughter in 2005. Having starred in the Broadway production (2007) and the London incarnation (2008), the famous Vanessa Redgrave will reprise her role in this one-woman play. But after the tragic death of her own daughter Natasha Richardson, I imagine that this performance will be different from the others. In fact, Lisa Schubert, Vice President of Cathedral Events, Marketing & Communications goes as far as to say that it will be a “historic evening.”

Because I happen to have moved just blocks away from the largest cathedral in the world, I decided to do some investigating this afternoon. (Did I mention that I’m starting Journalism School exactly one month from today?) So, after speaking to three staffers at the cathedral, the game of telephone eventually ended with Schubert.

I start by asking her why an Episcopalian church would chose to do this show, and she tells me that it was Redgrave in fact that chose the cathedral. Last fall she approached reps with her idea to do a staging of The Year of Magical Thinking. As for Didion, I learn that her husband and daughter are both buried in the columbarium at St. John. Everything seems compounded.

“The cathedral has always been a major place to talk about the big issues of our time,” says Schubert, citing poverty, civil rights, and environmental issues among others. “It’s tried to provide a voice for those critical humanitarian concerns.” As Redgrave is a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF, a portion of the proceeds from the performance will go to providing aid to the children in Gaza and Southern Israel.

With all these major players involved—UNICEF, Redgrave, and Didion—you’d think you could easily google (or bing) your way to this information. And you can, though, coverage is sparse and Schubert says there’s been no formal press release. For the time being, they’re relying heavily on word of mouth.

Conceding that they’re a little old-fashioned at the cathedral, Schubert says she does hope to continue seeing St. John in the blogs. Lucky for her, I plan to be there on Oct. 4 to report at the Feast of St. Francis, otherwise known as the blessing of the animals. After all, when else can you see turtles, llamas, and puppies together again on the Upper West Side?

For now, though, I’ve got my copy of Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” sitting just two inches away, my ticket reserved on will call.

Thanks for nagging me, Andrea. ;)
(The Year of Magical Thinking will be directed by David Hare. The performance is a one-night only benefit scheduled to take place on Monday, Oct. 26. You can purchase tickets online via the link on the church’s website.)

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