OLEAN — For a realistic, heart-wrenching portrayal of what it is like to grieve for a loved one, see “The Year of Magical Thinking,” presented by the Olean Community Theatre and opening tonight.

In this one-woman show, which runs through Sunday in the Cutco Theater on the Olean campus of Jamestown Community College, main character Joan Didion invites the audience to feel what she feels and to grieve with her, but she also encourages the audience to learn some of life’s lessons from the experiences she shares, specifically with death and serious illness.

Joan spends her first year of grief in a hopeful place she refers to as magical thinking — or, as she calls it, “if-thinking,” meaning “if” she does something, like keep her husband’s shoes, then maybe he will come back, maybe he is not really dead.

Joan’s way of thinking may sound familiar to those of us who have grieved, for we know the year following the death of a loved is a time of uncertainty where we have to learn to accept our new reality while we grapple with loss.

Featured is actress Ashley LaBombard, who is originally from Oneonta and has lived in Olean for the past two years. Portraying Joan as a wife and mother who has suffered loss, LaBombard’s emotionally-charged performance moves the audience to tears, enabling them to see a part of themselves in the character.

LaBombard’s performance, under the direction of Kathy Malik, shows the wide range of emotions we feel after losing someone; from anxiety, depression, and shock to the warmth reflecting on a special memory brings.

With only herself, LaBombard utilizes the entire stage and the space in front; when she walks into the audience, she blurs the line between the audience and the stage, allowing the audience to place themselves in the play alongside her character. In some instances, the way LaBombard gazes through the audience as she shares Joan’s stories makes it appear as if she were watching past events unfold in front of her.

LaBombard connects with the audience and entices them to feel what her character feels.

“The Year of Magical Thinking” is a two-act play and includes a brief intermission, which is especially helpful for audience members who may need to take a moment after being immersed in grief. Throughout both acts, take note of repeated words and phrases that point to the play’s overall themes. Pay close attention to jumps in time and place because everything is told through stream of consciousness; sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between the present in which Joan tells her story and the past upon which she reflects.

Overall, OCT’s adaptation invites the audience to connect to their own feelings and to the feelings of others — after all, it is human nature to share our experiences and find the commonalities that bring us together.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, visit The Hollamby Agency, Portville; Studio 4 East, Allegany; The Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce or go online at www.OleanCommunityTheatre.com.

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)