According to the Kübler-Ross model, there are five stages of grief. And that's essentially what Year of Magical Thinking is. It follows writer Joan Didion (played by Lucille Arrington Keller) through this personal process after she suddenly loses her husband and, over a longer, more excruciating period of time, her daughter through tragic circumstances.
Didion raises her voice to the doctors treating her loved ones, confused by the different medications and processes, their inability to predict an outcome once her daughter falls into a coma, showing her anger. She suffers depression every morning when she wakes up, forcing herself to settle into a routine to prove that she's not wallowing in self pity. And finally, near the very end of the play, she realizes that nothing she can do will change what is happening to her. She finally experiences acceptance.
But for the most part, Didion gets stuck on a combination of the other two stages of the model: denial and bargaining. This is the central point of the play — the "magical thinking." She tells herself over and over again that if she just does things a certain way (like preventing an obituary from being written, holding on to her husband's shoes, or making sure her daughter survives her ailments) then her husband will come back from the dead and her daughter will survive and everything will be all right again.
Keller is a storyteller. Her monologue takes us through every reaction she has and every question, however illogical, she asks herself. She shares extremely personal details of Didion's life, including an almost marriage-ending fight between her and her husband that she fixates on once he's gone. She has freak outs and she has calm, mournful moments.
The actress is lucky that because of the nature of the play, her natural stumbles (at least most of them), and even water breaks, come off very naturally and add to the conversational tone. Less natural were the props; Keller repots a plant and while I'm sure it has some metaphorical meaning, it wasn't necessary. This play should be about the actor; with her talent, Keller needed no more than a chair.
Year of Magical Thinking is watchable because it is relatable. We have all lost someone, whether in a permanent way or in the ending of a relationship. It is always difficult and we all must deal with the pain. Because of the subject matter, you're not going to leave this play feeling particularly joyful, (and if you don't have the patience for about an hour and a half of monologue, you should definitely avoid this), but if you know what to expect, you will get a solid, moving performance.