Seven years ago, Vanessa Redgrave teamed up with Joan Didion on a Broadway adaptation of the latter's 2005 National Book Award-winning memoir "The Year of Magical Thinking." Now, word comes of a new collaboration: a one-night-only reading of Didion's 2011 follow-up "Blue Nights," which chronicles the death of her daughter Quintana in 2005.
"Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness," Didion observes in that book, "but they are also its warning." What she's saying is that, in the gloaming, past and present come together, reminding us of our fragility, our evanescence and our loss.
In that sense, "Blue Nights" is very much a companion piece not only to "The Year of Magical Thinking," which records the death of Didion's husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne, as well as the illness of their daughter, but also to her 2003 book "Where I Was From," which tells the story of her family.
"The books are similar in that they ask more questions than they answer," Didion told me in 2011, as if to trace a line between the three of them. That's especially true of "Blue Nights," which has something of a cipher at its center in the figure of Quintana, who is the absence around which the memoir revolves.
"I hadn't dealt with Quintana," Didion acknowledged, explaining why she wrote the book. "I had dealt with her to some extent in the play, but the play [was] a ... way of preserving myself at a distance. Because as I say in the book, watching that play on 45th Street at night was one moment during the day when Quintana did not necessarily die."
In that sense, it's only fitting that Redgrave, who played Didion in "The Year of Magical Thinking" -- a one-woman show -- should take the stage again to portray her friend. The two have known each other for many years; Redgrave's daughter Natasha Richardson (whose own death, in 2009, is referenced in "Blue Nights") was married in Didion's home.
"Once she was born," the author tells us of her daughter, "I was never not afraid."
The performance of "Blue Nights" is to take place Nov. 17 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan; tickets are $40-$175 and benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Cathedral Community Cares.