Matthew Reddin

Theatre Gigante pays tribute to Spalding Gray

By - Oct 26th, 2011 04:00 am
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

A still from Spalding Gray’s seminal monologue film, “Swimming to Cambodia”. Cinecom Pictures.

Table. Chair. Microphone. Glass of water. That’s all Spalding Gray needed to put on a show.

Gray began his career as an actor in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but he became famous for his autobiographical monologues. He was among the first to take the stage monologue from fictional performance to factual retelling of personal events. In such works as Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box, and Gray’s Anatomy, Gray at once epitomized and effectively invented the form.

Tragically, Gray was found dead in New York City in 2004 of an apparent suicide, but his influence lives on in the works of many artists, including Mark Anderson, associate director of Theatre Gigante. This week, Anderson and Gigante artistic director Isabelle Kralj have assembled a “panorama” of Gray-themed events for Shades of Gray, a multi-media festival running Oct. 26 to 30. It includes a play composed of Gray’s writings, a film documentary on his works, and a collaboration with Boswell Books coinciding with the publication of Gray’s edited journals.

Kralj and Anderson said they’d hoped to put together something like Shades of Gray for several years. Theatre Gigante was the first company to perform the play, Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, after its 2007 premiere in New York.

“We are all completely enamored with Spalding Gray and his work,” said Kralj. “(Like him), we try to get at the heart and truth of things.”


Mark Anderson performs a monologue as “Adventure” in Theatre Gigante’s 2007 production of “Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell,” flanked by Marcie Hoffman (L) and Isabelle Kralj. Photo by Tate Bunker.

Anderson in particular followed Gray, after he saw him perform Swimming to Cambodia in the ‘80s. Anderson tried to get to know him as much as possible. As he puts it: “I took every opportunity I could find … to say ‘Hey, remember me,’ until he did.”

From that point on, Anderson said, he and Gray began to establish a professional and personal relationship. Anderson commonly invited Gray to shows he was doing with Theater X when Gray visited Milwaukee, and Anderson went to Gray’s shows when he was able to.

Anderson said Gray strongly influenced his own work. His style was not as confessional as Gray’s, but he shares Gray’s experimental, conceptual process, which sparked variations among many artists.

“He opened up a door, and people went a lot of different directions,” Anderson said.

Those possible directions may be discernible in Stories Left to Tell, structured around five roles that represent five aspects of Gray’s life: Love, Family, Adventure, Journals, and Career. While each actor reads excerpts from Gray’s writings and monologues in his usual method, they never attempt to mimic Gray’s delivery.

“We don’t try to be Spalding,” said Kralj, who performs the “Love” monologues in the production. “We try to be ourselves, the way Spalding would … He didn’t want to be another character, he wanted to be himself.”

Stephen Soderbergh’s documentary, And Everything is Going Fine, features Gray himself in scenes from his monologues (some of which were made into  films). Release of Soderbergh’s documentary, in 2010, made Kralj and Anderson feel that the time was right for Shades of Gray.

The timing was more serendipitous than they initially realized. Kralj and Anderson shortly discovered their festival also roughly coincides with the release of The Journals of Spalding Gray, a compilation of Gray’s personal writings. So they added the reading at Boswell Books.

Kathleen Russo, Spalding’s widow and agent, will attend some of the events, including a talkback after the play Friday night.

Anderson hopes that the festival will appeal to a broader public than initiated Gray fans. He thinks it will be a good introduction to the man and his work.

“Whether you know him or not, by the end … you know who he is,” Anderson said.

Shades of Gray runs Wednesday, Oct. 26 to Sunday, Oct. 30. There will be three performances of Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; two screenings of And Everything Is Going Fine Saturday and Sunday; and a free book event at Boswell Books Wednesday. The play features Mark Anderson, Marcie Hoffman, John Kishline, Isabelle Kralj and a nightly guest actor. Tickets are $26.50 for the play, $11.50 at the door for the film and $31.50 for both. Call (414) 229-4308 or visit Theatre Gigante’s website for more information.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us