What's New on the Rialto
Remembering Spalding, April 13, 2004
By Colette Boudreau
"Death doesn't have Spalding Gray. We do," stated John Perry Barlow during the memorial service held to honor actor and writer Spalding Gray.
Gray, who suffered from depression, left his family, wife Kathleen, sons Forrest and Theo, and stepdaughter Marissa on January 10th, 2004. His body was found in the East River on March 7th.
On the rainy afternoon of Tuesday April 13th, several hundred family, friends, and admirers sloshed into New York's Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center to attend the celebration of Gray's life. The weather reflected the mood of each attendee.
Gray appeared in many films, but he was best known as a monologist. He had a gift of taking pieces of his life and weaving them into fascinating and humorous narratives.
His last monologue, the unfinished "Life, Interrupted" played at Performance Space 122 through December 15th. It is an ironic reminiscence of Gray's family trip to Ireland in 2001 that turned tragic due to a car accident. Gray suffered from multiple injuries and from insufficient care in a poorly equipped county hospital. The event plummeted Gray into a major depression, but hope of recovery sprang up when he began to write about the incident. Plans were made to expand the story to include the 9/11 tragedy. Instead, the monologue lived up to its name.
Gray's sardonic grin, projected onto a screen over the stage at the Beaumont, welcoming us in. Downstage center stood a simple wooden table with a microphone, a notebook, a glass of water, and an empty wooden chair.
The service was well orchestrated. Actors and musicians, publishers and performers, friends and family came together to pay homage.
A flutist and cellist serenaded us into our seats. Judy Collins opened the service with her rendition of "Amazing Grace," and beckoned for all of us to join her. Near the end, Philip Glass and Jon Gibson played Glass' 1981 chamber piece, "Façades." Laurie Anderson spoke of writing music for Gray and despite how complicated life was, it was important for him to continue to approach the world with open eyes.
Bernard Gersten, Lincoln Center's Executive Producer, spoke, reminiscing about meeting Gray. It was during Lincoln Center's 1988-89 revival of Our Town, within which Gray played the Stage Manager. Gray continued to perform at Lincoln Center, five of which were his own works. Erik Stoltz, one of Gray's Our Town castmates, spoke last. He recalled a contemplative Gray who would sit in their shared dressing room, thinking in the dark.
Loss was expressed with poetry by Robert Holman and Lee Grant. Mark Russell, Executive Director of Performance Space 122, read an article he wrote about Gray that was published in the Village Voice. Friends Robert Stein, Suzanne Gluck, John Perry Barlow, Francine Prose, and A.M. Homes spoke about Gray the friend, the family man, the troubled genius and the gifted artist. Most of all, they spoke about his humanity and struggle for peace of mind.
Gray was represented on film by an interview conducted after the Ireland trip, a montage by Barbara Kopple, and Joe Berlinger's film trailer for My Brother's Keeper featuring Gray speaking about enjoying the film so much, he couldn't leave to "take a leak." The cemetery scene from Our Town was played during Stoltz's speech. The audience rippled with laughter when the "rivalry" between Gray and fellow solo artist Eric Bogosian was mimicked in a Saturday Night Live sketch that had Adam Sandler playing a loud, angry Bogosian in one corner of a boxing ring verbally sparring with Gray, played by Michael McKean, who sat behind a wooden table in the opposite corner.
Bogosian declared that they never signed off as performance artists, but as theater people working in theater. He spoke of Gray as the creator of a different theater experience, mastering the difficult task of sitting in front of an audience with limited props and still able to hold their attention.
Katheen Russo, Gray's wife, spoke briefly, thanking us for coming while her son Theo stood at attention beside his mother at the podium. When the service was over, we were left with the picture of Gray, still grinning over the stage, while a spotlight embraced the table and empty chair.