Tackling a role in a one-person play would certainly be an immense challenge – to say the least – for even the most seasoned of actors.
But for Red Deer-based acclaimed author Leslie Greentree, it has proven a challenge to not only bravely meet head on, but to thoroughly succeed at conquering. Greentree has made her stunning, remarkably moving, poignant and witty debut in Ignition Theatre’s current production of The Year of Magical Thinking – running through to April 14th in the Nickle Studio.
Penned by Joan Didion, the powerhouse one-woman show is based on the bestselling memoir of the same name.
It chronicles Didion’s heart-wrenching journey of navigating both the complexities and troubling mysteries of grief following the sudden loss of her husband in 2003 and that of her only daughter just a few years later.
The script of course is superb – it’s clear, razor sharp, gently insightful and continually compelling without being mired with excessive emotion.
Didion has an amazing way with words – there’s a real simplicity to her writing, but it’s elegant, funny, cutting and pretty much always right to the point. It also paints pictures in one’s imagination – lots of them. I found myself envisioning everything from sterile hospital corridors and gray, frosty New York City winter days and ocean sounds and sun-drenched California beaches as the observations of life, death, grief, love and family were so beautifully told via Greentree.
Director Matt Grue has said that from the start, as he was considering staging this play, that really only one person came consistently to mind for the role. It was Greentree, in spite of the fact she’s only had minimal stage experience.
There is no question he made the right call.
She’s absolutely right for the part on so many levels – from her voice, which carries layers of emotion so perfectly.
Didion’s script calls for raw heartache, for snappy cynicism, for mournful wistfulness, for nostalgia and even for bits of sarcasm here and there.
Greentree nails it each and every time.
Her face can go from mirroring pain of loss to having a faraway look when someone is putting together the pieces of a distant memory. Anyone who knows Greentree knows full well she’s got a great sense of humour – that shines through when the script calls for it as well.
But there is so much more. Greentree has to portray the absolute disorientation that grief unapologetically slams into life with.
She does it convincingly and poignantly. She connects to us as an audience. Even if grief has yet to touch your world, her performance sweeps you into the experience with its constant twists, those unexpected surges of emotion, the questions and the hollowness of some of the trite answers that inevitably come one’s way.
This carries over into the portion of the play that covers her daughter’s death as well. We see a woman who enters a phase of ‘magical thinking’ to endure these unimaginable losses until the hardness of reality edges in.
The other fantastic thing about the story is that we don’t only get a strong vision of Didion – we also can see what her husband and daughter were like as well. They are all so real – we mourn Didion’s losses with her.
But ultimately, those are just lines in a script.
It takes a talented actor to take those very lines and inject them with the power and light they need to bring them richly to life. Congratulations to Greentree for a truly tremendous performance – the task was steep and demanding but she is showcasing a whole new area of giftedness that I, for one, hope she continues to explore.
And congratulations also to Grue for sticking to his guns and selecting a relative newcomer to take on this role. It just goes to show this man’s insight into what works the best (as he has shown over the years repeatedly with Ignition) and his courage in going with his gut as to who best fits a given part.
Kudos also must go to Dustin Clark for his superb sound design, Barbara Adams for the wonderful scenic design and Lauren Acheson for creating a lighting design that emphasized the emotional strengths of scene after scene.
Curtain is 7:30 p.m. nightly. Tickets are $20/$25 and are available at www.ignitontheatre.ca.