Spalding Gray was one of the most influential solo performers of his generation, chronicling life’s ups-and-downs in wry, unflinchingly honest monologues. His suicide in January 2004 shocked the theater world and left fans, friends and family reeling.
Yet Gray left behind a vast body of unpublished work, including diaries, letters, poems and short stories. Later this month, Washington University’s Edison Theatre will present the Mid-west premiere of Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, a tribute that combines these materials with excerpts from his famous solo shows.
Stories Left to Tell was created by Gray’s widow, Kathleen Russo, and the director Lucy Sexton. It unfolds chronologically, moving from Gray’s childhood memories of swimming with his mother (who committed suicide in 1967) to his awkward adolescence and eventual fatherhood. In addition to previous monologues, Russo and Sexton have culled stories and anecdotes from Gray’s journals, unperformed works and even an answering machine message, made shortly before his death, in which Gray discusses suicide plans.
The performance also draws heavily from Life Interrupted, Gray’s final — and unfinished — monologue, which details a crippling car crash that happened in June 2001, while the author was vacationing in Ireland. Gray, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured skull and a badly broken hip, leaving his right leg virtually immobilized.
Over the next two years Gray battled depression and underwent six operations but his health — both physical and emotional — never recovered. He attempted suicide several times before leaping from the Staten Island Ferry into the icy waters of New York Harbor.
Stories Left to Tell debuted in June 2006 at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse. The cast was headed by Teri Garr, John C. Reilly, Tony Shalhoub and Frances Conroy. It is currently in production at the Minetta Lane Theater in New York.
In St. Louis, Stories will feature Rockwell Gray, Spalding’s brother and a lecturer in Washington University’s Department of English in Arts & Sciences. Other performers include a trio of contemporary monologists — author Jonathan Ames; acclaimed comedian Reno; and Obie Award-winning actress Carmelita Tropicana — as well as Calvin Johnson, founder of the indie-funk band Dub Narcotic Sound System.
Stories Left to Tell is presented by the Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series. Performances begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
Tickets are $30; $25 for seniors and Washington University faculty and staff; and $18 for students and children. Tickets are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets.
For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or visit edisontheatre.wustl.edu.
Born in suburban Rhode Island in 1941, Gray originally planned to become a novelist but in the late 1960s moved to New York and began performing with a series of experimental theater companies. In the mid-1970s he helped form the avant-garde Wooster Group, which also included actor Willem Dafoe. In 1977 the troupe mounted Rumstick Road, an autobiographical work exploring the aftermath of the death of Gray’s mother.
Gray continued to hone his stage persona in monologues such as Sex & Death to the Age 14; Booze, Cars, and College Girls; and Nobody Wanted to Sit Behind a Desk, but came to national prominence in 1985 with Swimming to Cambodia. Based on his experiences filming The Killing Fields (1984), this Obie Award-winning piece was itself filmed, by Jonathan Demme, in 1987. In 1992 Steven Soderbergh adapted Gray’s Anatomy. Later monologues would include Monster in a Box, It’s a Slippery Slope and Morning, Noon & Night.
Other film roles would include David Byrne’s True Stories (1986), Soderbergh’s King of the Hill (1993) and Ron Howard’s The Paper (1994). Gray also performed on Broadway, in the 1989 revival of Our Town and in the 2000 revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.
Over the years Gray was a frequent guest at Edison Theatre, performing Interviewing The Audience, Gray’s Anatomy, Monster in a Box, It’s A Slippery Slope and Morning, Noon & Night. In 1998 Edison hosted the world premiere of Gray on Gray: A Lifelong Conversation, a dialogue between Spalding and Rockwell Gray.
Edison Theatre’s OVATIONS! Series serves both Washington University and the St. Louis community by providing the highest caliber national and international artists in music, dance and theater, performing new works as well as innovative interpretations of classical material not otherwise seen in St. Louis. Focusing on presentations that are interdisciplinary, multicultural and/or experimental, Edison Theatre presents work intended to challenge, educate and inspire.
Edison Theatre programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis.
WHO: Rockwell Gray, Jonathan Ames, Reno, Carmelita Tropicana and Calvin Johnson
WHAT: Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31
WHERE: Edison Theatre, Washington University, Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
TICKETS: $30; $25 for seniors and WUSTL faculty and staff; $18 for students and children. Available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.
SPONSOR: Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series
INFORMATION: (314) 935-6543 or edisontheatre.wustl.edu