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I could never quite join in the critical acclaim for Spalding Gray, the actor, author and monologuist who died in 2004, aged 62, and this new off-Broadway evening of his writing has shown me why: I’d been waiting for other people to read his words. For just as authors are often not the best directors of their own work, so are they often not their own optimal performers.
My disinclination has to do with a too-forceful uniqueness of personality. To hear Gray perform his Monster in a Box or Swimming to Cambodia was to experience a solipsism that could be rebarbative. To listen to Stories Left to Tell, by contrast, is to encounter a liberated joy that Gray’s own performances never fully uncovered.
At the Minetta Lane, composition books lie in heaps on the stage. Five performers read from Gray’s monologues and journals, which have been assembled by his widow, Kathleen Russo, and directed by Lucy Sexton. Each actor has been assigned a theme: Love is Kathleen Chalfant, Adventure Hazelle Goodman, Journals Ain Gordon, and Family Frank Wood. There is also a guest performer – at my performance it was Josh Lucas.
All the actors are splendid. Chalfant manages to make Gray’s explicit accounts of sexual maturation seem sweet and Lucas, with pomposity- puncturing wit, recounts Gray’s encounters with showbiz types.
Gordon reads from the diaries, which fill in the gaps of Gray’s backstory leading up to the day his body was found in the New York’s East River, after his two-year struggle with depression.
Not only does Stories Left to Tell uncover Gray’s writerly strengths, but its actors, without resorting to rhetoric, demonstrate that anyone who moralises about suicide could use a lesson in basic humanity.
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