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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

In Memoriam

I was saddened to hear that Spalding Gray's death has been confirmed. I have long been a fan of "Swimming to Cambodia" and Gray's remarkable performance as the Stage Manager in the Tony-award-winning production of "Our Town" at Lincoln Center -- a performance he recounts humorously in "Monster in a Box." ("You don't want me," he told the producer. "You want Garrison Keillor.") "Monster in a Box" is not quite as good as "Swimming to Cambodia," but it is excellent, and "Terrors of Pleasure" was also a flawed gem. I've been less enamored of his more recent material, such as "Gray's Anatomy," and apparently that was a large part of his problem. Not my opinion particularly, but people's opinions generally. Audiences liked his material less and less, which made him more and more depressed, which made audiences like him even less, and so on.

When the audiences stop loving you, it's a very hard adjustment to make. Some -- like my musical theater teacher in college -- make the transition gracefully, and teach their students that the most important rule of life is to be kind to people on the way up because you will encounter them again on your way down. Others -- like the Coreys Feldman and Haim -- shill their autographs at conventions for $15 a pop. Gray had a lifelong struggle with depression, and when he find no comfort in his work, found a terrible sort of comfort in the East River.

One of the most interesting things he ever said was in one of his first shows -- "Sex and Death to the Age 14." He recounted how he had grown desperate that art could ever mean anything in our society, which he perceived to be a civilization in rapid decline into a new Dark Age. Someone gave him the advice that the last artists in Rome -- as the Vandals were running rampant -- were the historians, who tried to record what had happened for later people to understand. Gray took that to heart, and made history his Art by creating snapshots of our world as it now stands. The monologues weren't always brilliant -- sometimes his narcissism overran his words like kudzu -- but Gray was always honest, and there is no doubt in my mind that people two hundred years from now could read his work and find an accurate view of who we were, and why.

Requiscat in pace.

 8:51 AM

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