Gray Areas

Spalding Gray likes to talk about himself. Sitting alone on stage behind a wooden desk, with a microphone, a notebook, and a glass of water as his only props, the actor-writer has made a career out of yakking about his life.

Of the 18 humorous, autobiographical monologues he's written and performed since the late '70s, three of the most popular have been made into films: Gray's Anatomy, in which he talks about losing sight in his left eye; Monster in a Box, an account of his struggle to write a novel; and Swimming to Cambodia, ruminations on his experiences as a cast member of The Killing Fields, the 1984 Roland Joffe film about the U.S. bombing of Cambodia.

The material may not sound funny, but Gray is an expert at mining life's travails for their ironic nuggets. With a sometimes manic delivery and a penchant for building suspense, he deconstructs his memories: What was he thinking at the time? How did the experience make him feel? In Swimming to Cambodia, for example, he recalls taking a break with fellow cast members at an ocean resort. When another actor prompted him to swim farther into the surf than he ever had, Gray was forced to overcome his fear of sharks. In letting go of his phobia, he felt exhilarated.

For his latest show, Gray, age 67, turns his attention to fatherhood. Morning, Noon, and Night recounts a day in the life of his family, with whom he lives on Long Island. The topic brings him full circle. His earliest monologues focused on his turbulent childhood as the son of an alcoholic father and a mentally unstable mother, who committed suicide when Gray was 26 years old. Those early years set the tone for the rest of Gray's life, which has been plagued by fears of death and the decline of Western civilization. Before he began staging monologues, Gray shared his fears with a fellow actor, who responded by saying: "During the collapse of Rome, the last artists were chroniclers."

Gray decided then that he would offer his own experiences collectively as a microcosm for life. His new show does just that, exploring the bliss and horror all parents feel. Being a family man, however, hasn't diminished Gray's penchant for neuroses.

"I'm still completely freaked out by the fact that I'm going to die forever," he admitted recently. "I'm trying to deal with that one, and with the knowledge that I'm not going to be able to tell a story about it."

-- John Ferri

Morning, Noon, and Night will be performed nightly January 20 through 24 at the Kravis Center For the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets cost $25. Call 561-832-7469.

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John Ferri