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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Minetta Lane Theater

By David Lefkowitz

  Spalding Gray

Monologues have a habit of causing dread in theatergoers who've seen a few too many of them. Either you get the budding thesp who wants to demonstrate how many characters he can personate, or the aging actress immersing herself in some famous personage, or the autobiographical solo by a would-be standup comic who'd rather not brave the slings and arrows of outrageous nightclubs.

And then there was Spalding Gray. A man, a desk, a glass of water, and by gosh, a script that he wasn't afraid to read from while he was onstage. The sheer non-theatricality of it should have sunk his shows under the burden of boring self-absorption. But, of course, as anyone who saw the stage and/or film incarnations of Gray's Anatomy, Swimming to Cambodia or Monster in a Box knows, Gray's wry, direct way of telling his life story made 90 minutes with him fly faster than most shows that clutter the stage with a cast of dozens. After twenty years of monologizing everything from his eye operation to the affair that broke up his marriage, an epic personal narrative emerged of a weird, often privileged but deeply unsettled life, one cut tragically short by a depression that hovered throughout but then overwhelmed Gray after his terrible car accident in Ireland. He turned that into his last solo show, but theater isn't always therapy, and ultimately, in January 2004, he gave in to his demons and leapt in the East River seeking eternal escape.

As an homage to his memory and his work, Grey's widow, Kathleen Russo scoured through his plays and correspondence to create Spalding Grey: Stores Left to Tell. Though not the most straightforward of biographies (you probably need to be familiar with Grey's life and work to follow the pattern of his career in the show), the stories told here do add up to a vivid portrait of Grey's background and worldview.

Set against a backdrop of manuscript pages nearly covering a giant wall, Stories divides its mini-monologues up among five performers, each concentrating on one aspect of Gray's life (e.g., Rent's Anthony Rapp reading from his journals; Hazelle Goodman exploring his more adventurous side, Side Man's Frank Wood grappling with marital issues). If it's hard to imagine this quintet being different aspects of the same person, their distinct personalities do show that Gray's writing can easily hold the stage even when not delivered in dry New Englandese.

Sex and body functions get a more prominent place here than they tended to in most of the original works. Lisa Kron , of Well and Five Lesbian Brothers note, gets the brunt of these amusing tales about Grey's first sexual experiences. That said, the funniest bit goes to Goodman, who recounts an early stage experience wherein Gray wore a long flowing robe - under which he farted relentlessly. Needless to say, the actors walking behind him regretted their blocking.

With the usual glint in his eye, guest star Charles Busch covers Gray's brushes with the sillier aspects of Hollywood. However, it's Rapp who seems most comfortable with the material and format (one gets the feeling he kills when auditions call for cold readings).

Time and hindsight - and director Lucy Sexton -- also bring to Stories Left to Tell an emotional arc that even Gray's best solos were hard-pressed to match. Though the last excerpts are inevitably grim owing to Gray's despair (and our knowing how<


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