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April 07, 1994 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1994-04-07

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find myself in situations that, to me,
are ludicrous and absurd."
Anyone who has caught any snippet
of one of Spalding Gray's monologues
would have no trouble believing that state-
ment. From the OBIE award-winning
"Swimming to Cambodia" to his current
piece, "Gray's Anatomy," Gray has been
sharing with the public the bizarre situa-
tions he's been through.
In "Gray's Anatomy," the actor and author tells of his adven-
tures trying to work through an eye disorder. Traveling around the
country and around the world, the author visits with everyone
from a "techno-talk" specialist to a Christian Scientist to an Indian
sweat lodge. If "Monster in a Box," his last monologue which he
brought to Ann Arbor in 1991, was about adventures in trying not
to do something, then "Gray's Anatomy" is about trying to
actually get something done.
And while others like Lily Tomlin or Eric Bogosian may have
greater name recognition for their one-person work on stage,
Spalding has set himself apart for one large reason. While he takes
the audience for a ride as the best monologists do, he never leaves
the comfort of his own persona. When talking to him, there is
never a discussion of characters or motivation. It is simply a
conversation with a man. And his monologues are also a conver-
sation, albeit a one-sided one. "It is a continuation of my life," the
author said of his new show. "I mean, to say what I did would be
giving away the monologue."
"I do two things: I live a life and I keep a notebook like any
writer that way. The monologue is not written. They're outlines
from my memories."
However, one has to wonder, given the places he's been, the
people he's met and the things which he has done, how much is
fate and how much is searching for new material.
"I don't think I search for stories," he reflected. "I
live my life serendipitously. I don't plan what I am 'I do t)
going to do next very far ahead."
As seems to be a requisite for anyone who can tell keep 2
strange stories with both a sense of humor and a touch way. T
of profoundness, Gray seems to be a man of many
neuroses. Often talking about working things out in They'r
therapy, Spalding works his way through them with
the help of his monologues.
"(They) help me process, but it also helps me turn
it into an entertainment, so it is a gift to other people.
"It's very therapeutic because it helps to go over and process.
I love to make people laugh, to help people laugh. I don't laugh a
lot, so it is something they can do for me."
Seemingly weighed down by some invisible, emo-
tional baggage, it is understandable why Spalding
may find it tough to laugh. And it is certainly
understandable that he doesn't take many
_,4 risks.



wo things: I live a life a
a notebook like any writ
'he monologue is not wi
e outlines from my mer
- Spald

ally, really thought through. No way I'd go out in front of the audience and
try out new material."
Piecing Spalding's life before the monologues to get an idea of what
has shaped him into the man he is today is tough, unless you have read
"Impossible Vacation," a thinly-veiled fiction about a young man dealing
with his mother's suicide, and trying to get away. The
book was the central point to "Monster in a Box," which
nd I chronicled Spalding's experiences while trying to write
the book. It was dubbed a "monster" not just for the
ter that difficulties in writing it, but by its shear size - 1,800
ritten. pages.
"Impossible Vacation," as published, was under 300
nories.' pages. But that was less the result of finely snipping poor
ing Gray parts as much as it was a simple swinging of an ax.
"It was two books. We just cut it in half. The other
half is on my desk. It was the editors that did it, not me."
The book, however, was not really much of a stretch
for Gray. Not only because of the fact that the book was highly autobio-
graphical, but also because long ago, trying to make it as an actor,
Spalding realized, "I had a writer's consciousness."
Spalding continued, "I was always reflecting, remembering, telling
stories, and I realized that it was something that had to find a surface. So
I combined my acting training with my writing."
"Gray's Anatomy" is Spalding's 14th monologue. But all the while,
he has not given up acting, occasionally showing up in small roles in films
ranging from "The Killing Fields" and "True Stories" to "Clara's Heart"
and "The Paper." But his life continues, and so do his monologues. While
on the surface they are a narrative of his life, Spalding sees them much
more deeply.
"I think ('Gray's Anatomy') is about faith and doubt; odd medicine
versus alternative. I think it is also about what Renee's mother refers to
as the Bermuda Triangle of Health. She says that every person between
the ages of 50 and 53 (Gray is 52) goes into a hazardous relationship to
their health. If they pull through it, they live to a ripe old age.
"And," Gray continued, "really the monologue is just a really univer-
sal monologue, because everybody's body falls apart."
Spalding's next monologue may be not so much about his life as about
his personal life. Tough she is faceless to them, Gray's fans are familiar
with his long time friend Renee, who also works with Gray as a director.
The two were married since "Monster," but have since separated, keeping
a professional relationship.
Gray's reflections on his marriage seem to stay true to the persona the
audience meets on stage - full of angst and uncertainty. "(Marriage)
seems like a kind of girdle of commitment or a limiting of possibilities and
a shutting down and all that stuff.
"I think it began to have an effect on me and I began to act wilder and

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