Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" recalls the span of time when her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, and their daughter, Quintana Dunne Michael, both died.
Didion's book about the events and her reactions won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and she turned that book into a play that is getting its Sacramento premiere at California Stage.
The Sacramento-born novelist is well-known for her detached, airy style, and somehow that remove serves the intense drama of the emotional upheaval Didion describes.
"I was at the table making a salad," she recalls in the book. "John was talking about either World War I or the Scotch he was drinking, when he suddenly slumped over." Didion thought her husband was joking about the trial of his day, but he was, in fact, having a fatal heart attack.
"Life changes fast," Didion wrote. "Life changes in the instant." Their daughter's death was a more protracted ordeal that took place over a period of two years.
The California Stage production stars Janis Stevens, who won an Elly Award for best dramatic actress for "Becoming Julia Morgan." She also portrayed Vivien Leigh in the off-off Broadway production of "Vivien," for which she received a 2006 Drama Desk nomination for outstanding solo performance. The 2010 Bay Area Theatre Critics Award for best ensemble also went to Stevens and the rest of the cast for "Becoming Julia Morgan."
"The Year of Magical Thinking" continues at 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 25, in the Dennis Wilkerson Theater at the R25 Arts Complex, 1721 25th St., Sacramento. Tickets are $20-$25. For information call (916) 451-5822 or go to www.CalStage.org
Director Greg Alexander, who has to step in for the injured Aaron Wilton, and Benjamin Ismail will cavort across the Pollock Stage in Charles Ludlam's "The Mystery of Irma Vep," which opens Saturday night. The satire of theater and film genres, Victorian melodrama and Alfred Hitchcock's film "Rebecca" (1940) is written for two actors who play eight characters of both sexes.
Opening at 8 p.m. Saturday and continuing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Dec. 16. Tickets: $15-$38 For more information call (916) 443-6722 or go to www.sactheatre.org. Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H St., Sacramento.
Sherry M. Shephard- Massat's elegiac "Waiting To Be Invited" tells the story of four black women preparing to sit in at a whites-only lunch counter in 1961 Atlanta. The Celebration Arts production features Bonnie Bane, Betty Cummings, Bill Ellerbee, Susan Madden, Ingrid Pinkett and Gloria Wadud. At Celebration Arts Theater, 4469 D St., Sacramento. 8 p.m. Thursdays- Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16. Tickets: $15 general, $13 students and seniors. On Thursday night, all seats are $8. Tickets online at mycommunityevents.com. For information call (916) 455-2787 or go to Celebrationarts.net.