Tuesday, March 29, 2011, 02:38 PM - Posted by AdministratorThe New York Times | March 25, 2011
By SUSAN HODARA
A year before his apparent suicide in 2004, Spalding Gray, the acclaimed writer and performer known for his narrative monologues, appeared at the Emelin Theater in Mamaroneck to present his latest work. Now, Mr. Gray returns — in words and disarming spirit — when the Emelin stages "Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell," a play composed of excerpts from his letters, journals and published writings.
Tracing Mr. Gray’s nearly 65 years of life, "Stories Left to Tell" was created by his widow, Kathleen Russo, along with Lucy Sexton, the director. As the two pored over sometimes daunting volumes of work, they identified recurrent themes. Those themes are embodied by the play’s cast members, who present Mr. Gray’s words in roles titled Journal, Adventurer, Lover, Family and Career.
The play had its premiere off Broadway in 2007 in a six-month run at the Minetta Lane Theater, and has since been produced more than 100 times across the country, with the original cast members still part of the touring ensemble. Ain Gordon, an Obie Award-winning actor, has played Journal since the show’s debut. "Journal is the narrator," Ms. Russo said. "He sets the stage before each story for what Spalding was going through at the time."
Adventurer, Lover and Family are performed by rotating ensemble members; at the Emelin, they are Carmelita Tropicana as Adventurer, Josh Lefkowitz as Lover, and, as Family, Kathleen Chalfant on April 1 and Ms. Sexton on April 2. Ms. Chalfant, a Tony-nominated actress who appeared in the original "Angels in America," was Lover in the Minetta Lane production.
The role of Career, which centers on Mr. Gray’s experiences in Hollywood, is reserved for a guest actor, usually a celebrity or local personality. "We’ve had tons of famous people in that role," Ms. Russo said, "from Whoopi Goldberg to Richard Gere to Eli Wallach." At the Emelin’s two performances, Career will be played by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham on April 1 and Ms. Chalfant on April 2.
"Hearing other people read the work makes you realize what good dramatic writing Spalding was doing," Ms. Sexton said. "At first, we wondered how it could exist without him, but actors can take control of it, and audiences still get so much from his stories and his thoughts about life."
The Emelin staging comes on the heels of the first international performance of "Stories Left to Tell," as part of the New Territories festival in Glasgow, Scotland. The expanding audience for Mr. Gray’s work is gratifying for Ms. Russo.
"Many people didn’t get to see Spalding perform, and now they want to know who he was," she said. "Which was the whole mission for me as his widow — to make sure his work stayed alive. I think he’d be very pleased."
"Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell" is at the Emelin Theater, 153 Library Lane, Mamaroneck, on April 1 and 2. Both shows start at 8 p.m. and run 90 minutes. Tickets are $40. For more information: (914) 698-0098 or emelin.org.