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Next stage for Didion's memoir: theater

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Continuing a journey from personal testament to cultural touchstone, "The Year of Magical Thinking," Joan Didion's best- selling account of the death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, and the illness of their daughter, Quintana Roo, is being prepared for a completely new arena: Broadway.

The memoir, which was published in October and has since sold more than 200,000 copies, is to be adapted for the stage by Didion herself, with an eye toward a spring 2007 opening on Broadway. The play, imagined as a one-woman show, will be produced by Scott Rudin, the Hollywood and Broadway producer, and directed by David Hare, the respected British playwright. No casting has been announced.

Reached at home this week, Didion said she was initially stunned when Rudin approached her with the idea "I've never written a play," she said but found it more and more alluring as she considered it.

"I think that the book is not a narrative; it's about a state of mind, and I think that will work well," she said of the stage possibilities. "And I had a strong sense that I really wanted to try a new form."

Indeed, the play version of "Magical Thinking" promises to be another iteration of a story that started as a simple, painful piece of autobiography. Published by Knopf, Didion's book relates, in unflinching style, a remarkable, and terrible, period of her life that began on Dec. 30, 2003, with Dunne's sudden death from a heart attack at the couple's home.

His death ended not only a 39-year marriage but a lengthy literary partnership between the two writers, who had collaborated on screenplays as well as writing separately. It also came shortly after the couple's only child, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, had lapsed into septic shock after being hospitalized with the flu. A photographer and photo editor, Michael eventually died in August at 39 after a battle with a series of abdominal infections and other illnesses.

All of these elements gave Didion's account richly detailed and occasionally eerily detached both a terrible immediacy and a sense of existential mystery, factors that Hare feels will make fine drama.

"It's almost like a detective story in which the mystery is 'How the hell do I find a way to suffer less?'" Hare said, adding: "But it can't just be about events. It has got to be about one of the great themes, in this case grief and how you deal with unavoidable suffering."

Rudin, who had previously worked with Dunne and Didion on several screenwriting projects, said he envisioned doing a reading of the as- yet-to-be-written script next spring, with several more workshops and readings to follow. Broadway is the goal, he said, but he wanted to develop the work "in a very quiet way."

"The bar is very high," Rudin said, referring to the book's success.

Hare, who wrote and performed in his own one-person play, "Via Dolorosa," in 1999, said he saw "Magical Thinking" as a solo show, though Didion said it was possible other characters might develop during the writing process.

She also said that it was possible that the play would expand on the story told in the book, though that, too, had potential pitfalls.

"That's something we have to feel out," Didion said. "It occurred to me to begin with, as a way of taking it a step further, but there's another argument that the step further may be a bridge too far."

One idea she would not entertain, however, was taking to the stage herself.

"That," she said, "is not going to happen."

(C) 2005 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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