By Arlene McKanic
The late monologist Spalding Gray was the king of Too Much Information. He was the type of artist who, if he didn’t revel in the description of bodily emissions, then seemed rather preoccupied by them. He was also a mess in his personal and spiritual life, and this, at least, makes for a good and absorbing play. That would be “Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell,” produced by Douglaston’s Outrageous Fortune Co. and now playing at Queens Theatre in the Park.
Gray was born in Rhode Island, a state not known for much save its smallness and the vulgar seaside “cottages” the Vanderbilts and their pals built to show each other up. If there’s a Rhode Island “type,” one hopes that Gray was not a representative of it.
His intelligent and eccentric mother, to whom he was perhaps too deeply attached, went mad and killed herself. His stepmother found his eulogy for his laconic father so offensive that she banned him from the state of Rhode Island altogether. He drifted into fatherhood in middle age, under unsavory circumstances: He’d just gotten married but the mother of his son, Kathleen Russo, was not his wife. He didn’t see the baby until he was 8 months old.
Still, parenthood was what ultimately pulled Gray out of his self-obsession. He was at least as fascinated by his sweet sons and stepdaughter as he was with himself. But the lurking darkness he felt even in the midst of great joy never left him, and a ghastly car wreck he and Russo barely survived in Ireland destroyed him long before his actual death. He was not only still subject to his usual sturm und drang, but the accident had left him brain-damaged. In light of this, his highly publicized suicide in the winter of 2004 makes a bit of horrible sense.
Bernard Bosio, Emma Givens, Pat Clune, Bill Rapp, Carol Wei and Tracy Winston portray Gray in interconnected segments titled “Love,” “Career,” “Journals,” “Family” and “Adventure.” The segments are enhanced by Lucie Tripon’s projections of water, bridges, meadows and babies, and the words, of course, belong to Gray himself. He describes everything from swimming with his seemingly confident mother in Narragansett Bay and having lunch with her afterwards, to making out with the local girls, to going on a diet made exclusively of soybeans, which caused interesting gastrointestinal problems while he was acting in a play. There’s his stint in a production of “Our Town,” run-ins with Johnny Carson’s staff and of course, his chaotic love life and the somewhat calming effect of fatherhood.
The actors, directed by William P. Saunders III, perform with energy, passion and humor on a stage bare of everything but a desk and a few chairs, echoing Gray’s own usual stage props. Lighting designer Glenn Rivano keeps the light unobtrusive till near the end, when a dramatic spotlight on Rapp descends into darkness as Gray writes his last despairing letter to Kathy. But the darkness doesn’t last; the play, compiled by Russo and Lucy Sexton, ends in bright light, and a dance. Clearly, the compilers didn’t want the audience to leave the theater too dispirited.
“Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell” is a moving and even hopeful work about the life of a brilliant and very troubled man. It will be at QTIP through March 27.
If You Go
Spalding Gray: Stories Left To Tell
When: March 19, 20 and 27 at 8 p.m. and March 21 and 28 at 3 p.m.
Cost: In advance $22, at the door $25
Where: Queens Theatre in the Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Contact: Ronald B. Hellman firstname.lastname@example.org 718-428-2500 x. 20