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|A CurtainUp Review
Morning, Noon and Night
By Brad Bradley
The folks who don’t care for solo shows might make a wise exception to expose themselves to Spalding Gray. His confessional and autobiographical monologues display a true theatrical original. I’ve just attended my first live Gray performance, but long ago I was captivated by him on the basis of the magnetic videos of his Swimming to Cambodia (1987, concerning his location acting assignment for the film The Killing Fields) and Monster in a Box (1992, concerning his frustrated efforts to write a huge autobiographical novel). Morning, Noon and Night, his current life chapter, on view at Lincoln Center as were several earlier ones, concerns his life as an avant-garde performing artist turned Long Island family man. The subject matter might have led to cloying or even tormented views of domestic life, but in Gray’s hands (or, more correctly, his entire body, as he is performer as well as writer), it instead yields an alternately hilarious and life-affirming picture of a man in mid-life embarked on the great adventure of fatherhood that more typically is begun two or three decades earlier.
Some folks also might feel that some of Gray’s generous revelations are simply too personal. To be honest, he does share moments that usually are best left private, often not even shared with close friends. How can an audience of strangers feel about hearing assorted intimate details of his household’s lives? And yet this single day in Gray’s life with life partner Kathie and their three young children in an old house in Sag Harbor, with our practical philosopher occasionally turning the pages of his spiral notebooks containing his rarely consulted script, provide a rich sense of his entire life. He is a man who maintains the fascination and life spirit of a child; born in the early 1940s, he is enthusiastically heading into the next millennium.
We begin with the radio sounds of National Public Radio’s earnest news program "Morning Edition," clearly a friendly sound in Gray’s household. As audio tapes are inserted in his personal-size yellow boom box, we frequently hear other sound effects from his life . Eventually, we learn a bit of Gray’s childhood in Barrington, Rhode Island, a tree-friendly environment not unlike that of his current home in sheltered Sag Harbor with its charming homes and few events more exciting than a visit to the local ice cream parlor.
Occasionally our comfort with the captivating narrative is shattered by less genial anecdotes; for example, his eyewitness recollection of the messiest part of his son's birth. Likewise, Gray’s repeated utterance to life partner Kathie, "We’re not long for this town", reflects the fish-out-of-water quality which is basic to his character, and sticks in the mind asuncomfortably as a pill stuck in the throat. Our monologue man knows that sooner or later his secret will be out to all; that he doesn’t lead a life quite like other parents in the community. He forever will be trailed by his past as an odd duck, an artist among proletarians and sensible people, an alien in a strange land. And yet, his willingness to experience anything and everything confirms his fearless perception that "life is a rehearsal." Whether he has in mind a joyous afterlife, reincarnation, or another alternative is left for us to speculate.
Even for non-parents, the anecdotes about Gray’s children are infectiously entertaining. Six-year-old Forrest’s questions "Why are deer poops so small?" and "How do flies celebrate?" are two of life’s mysteries that are unlikely to be answered. And Gray’s observations on language usage will not be lost on his audience who may share his impatience with the current overuse of words such as "awesome." That is one misappropriated word which essentially has been banned in his household.
Through all his revelations, Gray’s style remains one of naturalness that transcends the undeniable scripting of the material to create the essence of a devoted patient recalling his life to a comforting psychotherapist or, more charitably, to a close friend who is a devotedly good listener. Gray restores the art of story-telling to its deserved place among thoughtful entertainments and makes his story both captivating and exhilarating, even in the cavernous arc-like theatrical temple called the Beaumont.