Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Painting it Gray

If you're really lucky, once in your life you get to see an actual tightrope walker. Not someone in a circus or someone who's looking down at a safety net. Someone like Philippe Petit, who walked on air (and a bit of cable) between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. Because he was so high, you had to believe that that little black dot moving like a cursor between two points was him. At least, until you saw the movie of that crossing.
Some tightrope walkers never got off the ground, in the physical sense. Quite a while ago, good fortune smiled down on me. I saw Spalding Gray perform live. My intro to his writing and performance was the movie version of his monologue, Swimming to Cambodia. With the angles and the music inserts, the movie, though enthralling, diminshed Mr. Gray's performance. I only say this because I could compare it to his live monologue. Without the available comparison, the movie seemed original, offbeat, intense, and very effective.

Live, there is a bare stage, a table, a glass of water, and a lone stab of light. Spalding Gray walks onto the stage, with his notebook. He sits, adjusting his chair once or twice. He pours himself some water, deliberately elongating the sound of the glass filling with liquid. He opens the notebook, puts his toe on the cable, and then proceeds to slide, shimmy, skeedaddle, march, and ooze across that fine line of interpretive memory. He was acting and he was himself. He was a split person, viewing his own unfolding and studied life.It was simply magic seeing him, plaid shirt and all.

Over the weekend, Spalding Gray's body was pulled from the East River in NYC. His disappearance over two months ago caused speculation as to his re-appearance from his close friends. As with all high balance acts perhaps it was just a matter of time before the fatal fall. But, while he was acting out his travails, both real and imagined, it was a performance you held your breath throughout.

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