Didion has some notes in today’s NYT about adapting her memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, into a play. She could write a laundry ticket and I’d be impressed, but it really is fascinating stuff.
I have been asked if I do not find it strange that Vanessa Redgrave is playing me. I explain: Vanessa Redgrave is not playing me, Vanessa Redgrave is playing a character who, for the sake of clarity, is called Joan Didion. At points before this character appears onstage, she loses first her husband and then her daughter. Such experiences of loss may not be universal, but neither are they uncommon. If you take the long view, which this character tries to do, they could even be called general.
This does not close the subject. “But Vanessa Redgrave is nothing like you.”
This is not entirely true. As it happens I knew her before I ever thought of writing a play. Tony Richardson, to whom she was married, was until his death in 1991 one of our closest friends. I had known their daughters since they were children. She and I understand certain kinds of experience in the same way. We share the impulse to make things, the fear of not getting them right. I would even guess, although I have not asked the question, that she has had the nightmare in which you get pushed onstage without a script.
I say some of this.
“But she’s taller than you are.”
This is true. She is taller than I am.
I try to suggest that her task in this play, for better or for worse, offers more elusive challenges than height impersonation.
Then I give up.