Memory is a formless miasma until you start making-up stories to explain why it’s there. We’re all storytellers. Some of us are better at telling stories than others. The best storytellers tend to inspire...more stories. (From everybody.) Spalding Gray did that. Last night I bussed it all the way to the East Side to see Theatre Gigante pay tribute to the late biographical monologuist on a small stage.
The venue is a UWM black box studio theatre. Kenilworth Studio 508. A younger crowd than mixes with older people who are familiar with Spalding Gray. (UWM College kids.) It’s kind of weird looking around and realizing that some of the people in the audience would have been in grade school or preschool when Spalding Gray took his own life back in 2004. It’s hard for me to make a connection with that. I was a weird kid. Always knew who Spalding Gray was growing-up. My dad would tell the story of working with him on a show as an intern at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
Spalding Gray is...Five People
The name of the show is Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell. It’s a really interesting look at the life of the man in his own words. But there are kids who had come to see the show. Time makes everyone echoes. Time shifts. In time Spalding Gray becomes just another name. He’s just another voice. His words become a part of a generation of storytellers that feed into the tapestry of human memory. Anticipating this, the show splits his biographical writings into a five different thematic voices...each played by a different member of the ensemble that has been brought together by Theatre Gigante.
A Blurry Nixon Did It For Me Last Night
At first it’s more than a little weird hearing the words of Spalding Gray spoken through the voices of others. Gray’s distinct voice is difficult to peel away from the words he’s written about his life, so it’s a bit disorienting. (I remember this from the last time I saw the show years ago.) There’s something about hearing his voice echo through others, though. It’s something that reaches into the heart of the human condition. It took a while for it to settle-in with me last night. Somewhere around the middle of the show Jill Anna Ponasik is performing bits from Gray’s 1997 show Gray’s Anatomy. (I love that show.) She’s speaking in Spalding’s words talking about meeting a blurry Richard Nixon and the right aesthetic finally jostles me. Ponasik’s crisp comic precision feels a million miles away from Gray’s voice...but it works. She’s telling a story about his life, but it reflects into her...and there’s an aesthetic parallax in that moment that jostles everything together for me. Suddenly it makes sense that other people are speaking his words from their own voices. Suddenly everything that came before that moment in the show feels aesthetically right. It makes perfect sense that his voice would refract into so many others. That's what good stories do. Last night it took a story about a blurry Richard Nixon to realize that. Weird.
Directors Isabelle Kralj & Mark Anderson have developed the show with a love for the biographer. The universality of the human condition feels strikingly vivid. It’s a cozy sage. Kralj, Anderson, Ponasik, John Kishline and Deborah Clifton share a stage and the words of a man who had a fearlessness about his own life onstage. Everything in his life was completely open as it echoes onto the stage here in endearing fragments shared among friends. I love this show.
Theatre Gigante’s Spalding Grey: Stories Left to Tell runs through Nov. 18 at the Kenilworth 508 Theatre on 1925 E. Kenilworth Place. For ticket reservations, call 1-800-838-3006 or visit gigantespalding.brownpapertickets.com. My concise, comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Expresss.