In 2004, the actor and writer Spalding Gray was found floating in New York City’s East River, the victim of an apparent suicide. Three years later, he’s back Off Broadway with Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, a compilation of his journal writing created by his widow, Kathleen Russo, and performed by a cast of five actors.
The show takes us through the course of Gray’s life, from his first love (and subsequent sexual awakening), to his arrival in New York, to the car crash which left him with cerebral damage and contributed to his life-altering depression. Growing up in the 1940s, he developed wanderlust (”I wanted to go to Bali — or at least to Provincetown”) and lived with a suicidal mother — chilling, given the play’s context. There are anecdotes galore: a therapist called Gray ”an existential garbage pail”; he once bumped into Richard Nixon at a doctor’s office; and there’s a hilarious tale of an agent’s confusion when he landed the lead role of the Stage Manager in Our Town at Lincoln Center (”You’re going to work…as a stage manager?”). The Stories are performed sublimely by a cast including Wit‘s Kathleen Chalfant, Side Man‘s Frank Wood, and a new famous guest star every few weeks. (I saw Josh Lucas; 30 Rock‘s Rachel Dratch fills in through April 22; Bruce Vilanch follows.)
As Gray’s body deteriorates, he feels that it’s ”held together by failing wire,” and at one point, desires ”a vacation from Spalding Gray.” And it’s a strong person who can hold back tears during readings of his last entries, during which he experiences his last perfect moments, watching his children play. ”I came to know my life from the telling of it,” he writes, and, gloriously, so do we. (Tickets: Ticketmaster.com or 212-307-4100) A