Spalding

A few weeks ago I went to a chi-chi uptown theater awards banquet (Tuxedos!  Bellinis!  Gowns!), and on the way out we were headed thank you ‘goody’ bags, that included a biography of the late downtown theater luminary…  Spalding Gray.  Huh?

For some reason, lately I’ve been reconnecting with Spalding (though I never met the man, it seems incomprehensible to call him anything but ‘Spalding’.)  I’ve read and reread It’s A Slippery Slope and Morning, Noon and Nigh, and viewed Jonathan Demme’s film of the masterful Swimming to Cambodia.

I first discovered Spalding not through his own work, but as the stage manager in Thorton Wilder’s classic, which Lincoln Center Theater had the good graces to put on PBS when I was young.  To me, it’s the definitive production, no matter what the critics said, and when you watch the tape over and over and over, Splading became (as the ‘Stage Manager’ does) a kind of guide. (I had the good fortune, years later after a play, to talk with James Rebhorn about working with Spalding in that production.)

So years later, when a high school English teacher introduced me to Splading on his our neuroses, his own lifetime quest for the ‘perfect moment’…  well, I was predetermined to connect with him.  And how could you not?  Spalding was fearless in his monologues (all of which I’ve read), endearing in his forthrightness about the Hollywood machine, and always, always nothing short of honest in his portrayal of life.

Perhaps the monologue that draws me in the most is his last, Morning, Noon and Night.  Maybe because it’s the most…  well, normal– Spalding’s struggling with and learning to enjoy everyday domestic life– and maybe because I’ve been to some of the places he’s been in the Hamptons, or maybe because it’s his most generous–  it’s Spalding a bit like we are, to quote Wilder, “…  and in our marrying and in our doctoring and in our living and in our dying…”.  But then of course you can’t finish at his last monologue, you have to read Life, Interrupted.

And that’s the thing:  We all know what happened to Spalding.  Without judging him, that’s how hard life is.  But even knowing what happened to Spalding, it’s possible to luxuriate in his words, to share his dazzlement and enjoyment of life, and to reconnect with him now and then.

Spalding Gray, you ask.  Who the hell’s that?!  What is this frigging post even about?  Go back to the World Cup!

Well, do yourself a favor:  Get to know the monologues and films and words of Spalding Gray.

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