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A CurtainUp Review
Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell
By Elyse Sommer
For Gray's many ardent fans, any attempt to bring his words back to the stage spoken by others may sound like heresy. However, even purists have been moved by Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, the lovingly created theatrical collage created by his widow Kathleen Russo with the help of director Lucy Sexton and five dynamic performers.
This complilation of Gray's writings makes no attempt to mimic his persona. Instead it has forged a revealing, multi-dimensional portrait of the troubled New Englander's public and private life from his monologues (Sex and Death to Age 14; Terrors of Pleasure; Swimming to Cambodia; Impossible Vacation; Gray's Anatomy;Monster in a Box; It's a Slippery Slope; Morning, Noon and Night; Life Interrupted) as well as his personal journals, letters and informal scribbles. What started out as a reading as part of the posthumous re-publication of his most famous work, Swimming to Cambodia, evolved into an intimate and often hilariously funny tribute at P.S. 122 on what would have been his 65th birthday. The response to that tribute seeded the remarkably entertaining, full-fledged play that has kept the Minetta Lane Theater filled with both new and long-time Gray enthusiasts.
While the actors read from the source material, and the presence of a table and chair that's part of David Korin's scenic design is reminiscent of the bare bones setup that typified Gray's delivery of his monologues, this is an artful and effectively staged construct that adds up to a seamless and theatrical testament to Gray's life and legacy.
The source text has been divided so that the performers become identified with various aspects of the eventful and troubled life of the man known as Spud. Hazelle Goodman=Adventure. . .Frank Woods(who probably comes closest to sounding like Gray)=Family. . .Ain Gordon=Journals. . . Kathleen Chalfant=Love. The career ruminations are handled by different guest artists each week—Josh Lucas handling this assignment with charm and humor at the performance I attended. Since life isn't a neatly comparmentalized loose leaf notebook, the actors don't stick slavishly to the thematic category assigned to them, which adds to the gracefulness and flow of the hundred minute intermissionless play.
While the table and chair used mostly by Ain Gordon is a pivotal prop, the overall design symbolically supports the depth and breadth of the man being celebrated. The triple platform stage is piled high with notebooks and backed with a wall covered with manuscript pages. As lit by Ben Stanton this flat wall becomes as dimensional as this account of Gray's life.
The story moves non-linear fashion from performer to performer with the portrait of this gifted neurotic becoming fleshed out and engaging us so completely that we forget any reservation of hearing Gray's words spoken by others. A final projected image of Gray is an at once joyous and heartbreaking conclusion that reminds us that good as Stories Left to Tell is, it would be even better and less hearbreaking if it weren't also a eulogy.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide