Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spalding Gray: Stories Left To Tell

This has been an action packed week indeed: library talk in West Egg, beginning again at my old day job, Dainty Cadaver chapter to be written, apartment hunting commencing, big decisions being made all over the place, and lots of theater being seen and reviewed.

Oh, theater. There's been so much to see, with Under the Radar over at The Public, and Coil in full swing over at PS122 (and points North - more on that later). Inamorato and I began our week of theatrical viewing with the anger-making depression factory (pun intended) Gob Squad's Kitchen, then the next night we were lucky enough to catch Stories Left To Tell: Created from classic and unpublished work of Spalding Gray. Sadly, I was never able to ever see Gray perform when he was alive - aside from the films of his solo performances and his often inexplicable movie roles (Beaches - need I say more?).

It's funny, even though I've read his novel (and I use the word "novel" advisedly, as it is clearly as autobiographical as anything else he's done), I never really thought of him as a writer - but as a storyteller and performer. We live so much in the world of the theatrical one man band, the idea of a performer's voice as a writer and that writer's performance have become nearly unseperably linked. I mean, can any of us picture someone else performing one of Mike Daisey's shows? No, me either. So I wondered how it would be seeing a bunch of other people read Gray's words.

All I can say is that screw everything else - Gray is a writer. Not only does it hold up, hearing and watching his work being performed by others was nothing short of a major revelation.A disperate group of four performers read pieces of Grey's monologues, letters and journals and it was incredibly moving and hilarious. His work is a gift. Kathleen Chalfant (who I last saw on stage many years ago in Angels in America), Hazelle Goodman (who, I was thrilled to discover, played Georgia Rae Mahoney on Homicide: Life On the Streets), Bob Holman (poet and founder of the Bowery Poetry Club), and playwright Ain Gordon performed for the audience and for each other. The guest performer on the night I was there was David Straithairn. It was completely joyful.

I know it's silly, but like with Calvin Trillin and his Alice, I feel as if I knew Spalding Gray. He wrote about an acting exercise in which he was supposed to tell his acting partner a secret he had never shared with anyone. And he had nothing, he had no secrets. Following his work over the years, you knew about his long time girlfriend Renée, about his mother's suicide, about his childhood in Rhode Island, about his affairs, about his hypochondria, about his health problems, about his work, about his sexual hang-ups, about his children when they were born, about everything. So, when he committed suicide in 2004 is was such a shock, it seemed such a waste. But hearing further details about the terrible car accident in Ireland, about some possibly botched surgery, about what sound like debilitating health problems, about going mad - it's all devastatingly sad, but understandable.

So, Spalding Gray was a writer, maybe one of the best. He is missed. Read what my inamorato and fellow Rhode Island native has to say.

1 comment:

uptonatom said...

Just a silly point. Gray is Gray - not Grey. You weren't consistent. However, you are absolutely right - Spalding considered himself a writer first.
Also, ensure you see And Everything is Going Fine
- the Doc by Soderbergh which is just footage of Spalding himself. For the most complete list of showings and reviews see:
I'll add your blog to the site under Fan Writings. It may take awhile as I am behind...

Thank you
webmanager for the Estate of Spalding Gray