“A breathing portrait . . . you feel the deep, lonely ache of something precious lost. Thank Heaven that S_tories Left to Tell_ reminds you that something precious remains as well.” —New York Times
Celebrating the influential work and life of actor/writer Spalding Gray (1941–2004) and his irreverent storytelling style, Stories Left to Tell combines excerpts from Gray’s legendary stories and monologues with previously unpublished letters and journal entires that span the artist’s career and life. The piece is performed by a five-person ensemble made up of some of downtown New York’s most accomplished writer/performers—including David Cale, Ain Gordon, Josh Lefkowitz, and Carmelita Tropicana—as well as a different local celebrity guest performer each evening. Stories Left to Tell also honors the 30-year history that the Walker Art Center enjoyed with Gray, which included commissions, video coproductions, and presentations of such major works as Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box, and Sex and Death at Age 14. The Walker presents Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell on Thursday, March 18, (with actor/comedian Louie Anderson), Friday, March 19, (with Minnesota Public Radio host Kerri Miller) and Saturday, March 20, (with playwright/storyteller Kevin Kling). All performances take place in the McGuire Theater at 8 pm.
Gray was hardly a household name when he performed at the Walker in the fall of 1980, years before his Swimming to Cambodia and Monster in a Box performances were made into movies. But as an artist whose potential the Walker recognized early on, his debut was a three-evening mini-festival of monologues: Sex and Death to the Age 14; Booze, Cars and College Girls; and India and After (America). It was the start of a relationship that would have Gray returning multiple times in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Gray wrote in Touring Solo: A Performer’s Diary, published in the Soho News, January 7, 1981: “Oct. 2—Sex and Death to be performed in a big formal 350-seat auditorium at Walker Arts [sic] Center. It was overwhelming after small galleries and a grange hall. I suggested that they put chairs on the stage all facing my table, and they did it. All those empty black chairs facing the backdrop looked like the setting for a symphony orchestra headed the wrong way. The audience came in cautiously. Most of them sat onstage, but many chose a “safer,” distant and more comfortable seat out in the “house.” When all the seats onstage were filled, I began. There was no laughter, and I began to think that they were a serious and uptight audience until I realized that, for the first time in a long time, the audience was fully concentrated on the content of the piece. As opposed to the immediately enthusiastic reception I sometimes got, they were listening to me tell the story in a way I had not experienced before on the road. This made me feel whole again. I gave up going for laughs and just told the story. They were with me all the way.”
“In his plaid shirt, sitting at a table with a glass of water and a microphone, Spalding Gray was an anomaly within downtown New York’s theater scene, which was noted for its messy excess, in-your-face intensity, and ensemble creations,” said Philip Bither, the Walker’s McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts. “By using language in a performative way, he created a new form of contemporary monologue, an urbane version of front-porch storytelling. He was beloved for his neurotic obsessions and for the fact that he was able to turn a self-deprecating but very literary and keenly observed view of his own life—or carefully chosen moments of it—into complexly layered stories that had universal appeal. Both hilarious and heartbreaking, he had an uncanny ability to connect with people, who came to his shows eager to hear the next chapter of Gray’s life-as-adventure.
“I always regretted not having the chance to pay tribute to Gray after his tragic suicide in 2004,” Bither continued. “So I was intrigued when his widow, Kathleen Russo, and director/performer Lucy Sexton created Stories Left to Tell, in which some of downtown New York’s most accomplished writers and theater artists perform excerpts from works spanning Gray’s career and life.
“Marking almost 30 years since that debut performance, Stories Left to Tell is also an occasion to look back on the Walker’s history with Gray, who helped define this place as a unique arts institution in the same way that visual artists such as Chuck Close or choreographers such as Trisha Brown have done. It arrives at a fortuitous time, when Event Horizon, Benches & Binoculars, and other exhibitions are celebrating and rethinking the Walker’s collections in visual arts, performing arts, and film/video—and pointing to key works that are important to this institution and the community. Gray’s performances here are a part of that legacy, and the reason why the Walker helped establish the Spalding Gray Award. Now in its third year, this award supports writer/performers who fully realize both aspects of Spalding’s achievement: who are fearless innovators of theatrical form, and who reach into daily experience and create resonant, transcendent work that makes us all bigger, wider, wiser and, somehow, more than we were when we entered the theater.”
Spalding Gray, a writer, actor and performer, created a series of 18 monologues which have been performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia, including: Sex and Death to the Age 14; Booze, Cars and College Girls; A Personal History of the American Theater; India and After (America); Monster in a Box; Gray’s Anatomy; It’s a Slippery Slope; Morning, Noon and Night, and the Obie Award-winning, Swimming to Cambodia.
From 1969 through 1985, Gray worked with The Performing Garage in NY, performing with The Performance Group directed by Richard Schechner and with The Wooster Group directed by Elizabeth Lecompte. From 1975 to 1978 Gray and LeCompte, created his autobiographical trilogy Three Places in Rhode Island. His early signature monologues were also developed at the Garage, including Sex and Death to the Age 14, India and After (America), A Personal History of the American Theater, 47 Beds, and Swimming to Cambodia, which was made into a film by Jonathan Demme.
As an actor, Gray performed on Broadway playing Secretary William in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, and the Stage Manager for the revival of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, directed by Gregory Mosher. Other theater credits include the role of Hoss in the Performance Group’s New York premiere of Sam Shepard’s Tooth of Crime.
Gray’s film credits include: James Mangold’s Kate and Leopold; Jesse Dylan’s How High?; Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields; Jonathan Demme’s Swimming to Cambodia; Peter Cohn’s Drunks; David Byrne’s True Stories; Robert Mulligan’s Clara’s Heart; Gary Marshall’s Beaches; Paul Mazursky’s The Pickle; Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill; Ron Howard’s The Paper; John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon; and Jeremiah Chechik’s Diabolique. Television appearances by Gray include the HBO Special Terrors of Pleasure; and HBO’s Premiere films The Image (with Albert Finney), The Nanny, and Zelda, directed by Pat O’Connor.
Publications include a collection of monologues, Sex and Death to the Age 14 (Random House); Swimming to Cambodia (Theater Communications Group); In Search of the Monkey Girl from Aperture Press; Orchards (Monster in a Box); Gray’s Anatomy (Vintage); the novel Impossible Vacation from Knopf; the novel It’s a Slippery Slope was published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux in the fall of 1997, and was released on compact disc by Mercury Records in the spring of 1998.
The monologue Gray’s Anatomy was released as a film directed by Steven Soderbergh in the spring of 1997. Gray’s monologue Morning, Noon and Night was published by Ferrar, Strauss & Giroux and premiered at the Goodman Theater in September 1999 and opened at Lincoln Center for a three-month run in the fall of 1999. He took his life in January of 2004 after a two-year battle with depression caused by a head injury sustained in a car accident. His last monologue, Life Interrupted, was in development at Performance Space 122 in December of 2003, and was published in 2005 by Crown Publishing. The world premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s Spalding Gray documentary, And Everything is Going Fine, recently premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in January. He is survived by his sons Forrest and Theo, daughter Marissa, and wife Kathleen Russo.
Kathleen Russo is co-founder of Washington Square Arts, an arts management organization that oversees Gray-related stage and film works, among other projects. In 1995, she was executive producer on the film Gray’s Anatomy, directed by Steven Soderbergh. She recently co-produced the documentary about Spalding, And Everything is Going Fine, also directed by Soderbergh. Using footage spanning almost 25 years, the monologist’s posthumous autobiography was made with the close involvement of Russo, and featured music by the couple’s son Forrest Gray.
Stories Left to Tell was co-conceived by Kathleen Russo and director Lucy Sexton, who have assembled excerpts from both renowned and never-before-seen work to span the artist’s extraordinary life and career. The piece unfolds chronologically, from recollections of childhood swimming trips with his mother and tales of awkward adolescent sexual encounters, to the joy Gray took in being a father himself. In addition to diary extracts and other unpublished writing, Stories Left to Tell includes excerpts from Sex and Death to Age 14, Terrors of Pleasure, Swimming to Cambodia, Impossible Vacation, Gray’s Anatomy, Monster in a Box, It’s a Slippery Slope, Morning Noon and Night, and Life Interrupted.
Tickets to Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell are: Thursday, $18 ($15 Walker members); Friday–Saturday, $25 ($21) and can be purchased at walkerart.org/tickets or 612.375.7600. The McGuire Theater’s Balcony Bar will be open at 7pm and after performances.
Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell and the Walker Collections
Friday, March 19, 6:30 pm, Free with performance ticket
Meet in the Bazinet Lobby, registration is required
Before the performance of Stories Left to Tell, visit the galleries with guide Misa Chappell and Kathleen Russo, Spalding Gray’s wife and creator of this celebratory reading of his work. They’ll discuss artworks that resonate with the creative spirit of Gray’s life and writings.