Swelter

"Being a father was part of not killing myself. I flipped out at first, couldn't even see the baby. It's a pretty sordid soap opera, obviously, with him in the star role. Renee and I still work together, but we've separated and don't live together any more. My therapist, strangely enough, could always see the child in me, and actually called me by my son's name sometimes. He was a great believer in transference therapy, and kept insisting I could have both women and the child. But of course he was European.

"My son has become an Oz to me, a combination of the angelic and devilish, and I see myself in him completely. As a bonding experience, I took him out to my country house by myself, having my first bloody mary, him playing at my feet like a dog. And then I was on the floor with him, and five hours went by, letting him take peas out of my mouth like a mother bird. Then that instinctive straight arm, that pushing away of his father, and I thought to myself, 'Good for you.' Incredible. Maybe my next monologue will be about fatherhood."

Later that night Gray takes the stage at the Colony Theater, roaming over "the Bermuda triangle of health," women having orgasms by astral projection, the interconnectedness of meat, alcohol, and sex. It all ties in neatly at the end, unlike real life, closing with a bit about his wedding party in the Hamptons. Somehow the jokes about the claustrophobic specter of marriage no longer seem quite as entertaining: Art and journalism depend upon voraciousness and limited truth. On the whole, however, the performance is yet another triumph of art over real life: funnier than the off-stage Spalding Gray, even more self-centered than his other work, positively brilliant in stretches. Like most people, especially most performers, Gray is better as a concept than a living, breathing being.

At the postperformance reception afterward, Gray knocks back beer at Lyon Freres and negotiates his besotted fans: "Creative people think in nonlinear terms, don't you think?" "How much do you charge as an actor? I've got a project." The ambiance is eerily like a strained English department faculty reception: earnest people with quiet habits clustering around the visiting genius, Antonio Salieri mute before the cruel brilliance of Mozart. Gray is undeniably fucked up, half-mad, and given to epic indulgences, but then again, he's out there climbing into the stratosphere. The shining star of downtown culture, emerging from the maw of narcissism, the modern nebulous prison that encircles us all. It's a fairly lame scene, but Gray looks content, a line from the morning's dialogue capturing the conundrum of fame: "When I'm alone, I feel like I'm disappearing. But I have such a sense of intimacy with my audience, much more so than one-on-one. I'd like to die in a New York storefront with a two-way speaker system, talking all the time, right up to the end."

"I'd like to die in a New York storefront with a two-way speaker system, talking all the time, right up to the end."

Spalding Gray, the shining star of downtown culture, in town for the Miami Light Project presentation of Gray's Anatomy.

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