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THE COLOR OF `GRAY'.

Byline: Evan Henerson Theater Writer

However else they chose to interpret the words on the scripts in front of them, the core cast and guest artists performing the Spalding Gray tribute ``Leftover Stories to Tell'' have been given one specific stage direction:

Do not attempt to look like, sound like, or in any other way resemble Spalding Gray.

``They should take (the material) and present it in their own way,'' says Kathleen Russo, Gray's widow and the co-director of ``Leftover Stories to Tell.'' ``Not trying to impersonate him is the biggest key to making it work.''

The recent New York engagement of ``Leftover Stories'' featured Aidan Quinn, Steve Buscemi, Debra Winger, Ain Gordon and David Strathairn all doing their best not to sound like Spalding Gray. The Los Angeles run, Wednesday through Sunday at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, includes Teri Garr, Frances Conroy, Tony Shalhoub, Brooke Adams and Roger Guenveur Smith. Hazelle Goodman, who played the New York engagement, also joins the L.A. cast.

And that ``no imitating'' rule is easily enough followed, given the virtual impossibility of duplicating Gray, the stage and screen actor whose monologues ``Swimming to Cambodia,'' ``Monster in a Box'' and ``Gray's Anatomy'' are considered genre-defining.

With ``Leftover Stories,'' Russo and co-director Lucy Sexton have culled together unpublished writings from all periods of Gray's life, as well as journal entries, short stories and poetry. Each of the core cast members embodies a different stage of Gray's life: Gray as a child, Gray on family, Gray on sex, Gray on parenting.

Rotating celebrity guests will undertake the career-related stories. Selections from ``A Life Interrupted,'' Gray's last monologue, are also part of the event.

Gray committed suicide in January 2004, at the age of 62. Friends and family say that Gray succumbed to depression, which intensified following a 2001 car accident in Ireland.

Since his death, the theater world has produced numerous tributes and recognition. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed June 5 Spalding Gray Day, following the New York run of ``Leftover Stories'' at P.S. 122.

A CD of ``A Life Interrupted,'' read by Sam Shepard, was recently released on Audio Renaissance, and director Steven Soderbergh -- who directed the film of ``Gray's Anatomy'' -- is working with Russo on a Gray documentary.

``The mission is for people to focus and see what an incredibly brilliant writer (Gray) was,'' says Russo. ``Everybody remembers him for that unique performance, but they'll pay more attention to the readings than they would if he were actually performing.

``It's also been very therapeutic,'' she adds. ``I feel like I'm keeping him alive in a healthy way.''

Gray's tales -- which the monologuist would perform sitting at a bare table containing only a glass of water -- covered a gamut of subjects, highly topical and seemingly mundane. An urbane WASP-y Woody Allen, Gray would turn a wry eye on his experiences working in the film ``The Killing Fields,'' his love of skiing, eye problems and anything else that crossed his arch radar.

Russo estimates that she and Sexton have gone through maybe half of Gray's journals, no small task given that the monologuist filled up pages for 40 years of his adult life.

``Kind of excruciatingly personal'' is the phrase actor-singer Loudon Wainwright III uses to describe Gray's work. Wainwright, who will be one of the celebrity guest readers of ``Leftover Stories,'' first became aware of Gray when a friend said that the monologuist's stage works had some thematic similarities to his own songs.

Wainwright, who has a home on Shelter Island, also knew Sag Harbor residents Gray and Russo socially.

`There didn't seem to be much of a border or delineation of the way he was in person to the way he was on stage,'' Wainwright says of Gray. ``His stage performance was very crafted and worked-on. He kind of created a certain kind of form that certainly was very connected to who he actually was.

``I'll go back to just saying `excruciatingly personal,''' he continues. ``And funny. That's the other thing. You'd be shocked, but laughing, too.''

The massive archives include Gray reading much of his materials. Russo and Sexton toyed with the idea of including Gray's voice in the tribute evening but ultimately nixed that notion.

``People would be so, so upset to hear his voice, and it would take a long time to start getting into the material,'' says Russo. ``So we said, `Let's get rid of it.' It brings people down in the beginning, and that's not what we wanted.''

Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651

evan.henerson(at)dailynews.com

LEFTOVER STORIES TO TELL: A TRIBUTE TO SPALDING GRAY

Where: Freud Playhouse, UCLA Westwood.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $45. (310) 825-2101; www.uclalive.org.

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``Leftover Stories'' brings together a variety of actors to read works by the late Spalding Gray.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 13, 2006
Words:811
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