By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“Spalding was trying to redefine the art of performance,” says Smith. “What is performance? Is performance somebody sitting on a bus stop? Is it somebody going to a post office and saying You must find my certified package and going into a diatribe about why you can’t find my certified package? Is there a line between performance and what we find as reality? Spalding was pushing that boundary with this amazing dive into his psyche. I don’t know which side of cynicism it would be to say that his last act was his ultimate performance act, jumping off that ferry.”
According to Russo, before the car accident, Gray’s performances of his own writings had a curative effect. After the crash, his spiral of depression spun out of control.
“Nothing could save him,” she explained. “He did create a new work, Life Interrupted, but his mood wasn’t changing from it, and his performance style was not the same. He had to wear a brace on his leg, and Spalding was a very outdoorsy kind of guy. That fed into his depression.”
Russo also said that Gray underwent a six-hour operation that entailed removing hundreds of pieces of bone that were lodged in his brain, and whatever material they used to piece him together started to cave in, which required major cosmetic surgery.
“You can’t imagine what that does to an actor,” Russo said.
When none of the medications were abetting Gray’s depression, the doctors proposed electroshock therapy, which Russo first opposed, then acceded to, after the doctors suggested that without the treatment, Gray might have to be institutionalized.
“They did it, and it did nothing,” Russo said contemptuously. “Of course it did nothing for him because he had a titanium plate in his head.”
Just before he committed suicide, Gray was under the care of neurologist Oliver Sacks at NYU. “He was starting to come through it,” Russo said. But Sacks’ therapy never had a chance. Gray killed himself only six weeks into a five-year treatment.
Says Smith, “I directed a piece called Radio Mambo with Culture Clash. There was this crazy character named Charlie Cinnamon, played by Richard Montoya — Montoya’s on the phone yacking like a salesman, he says, ‘Just a minute hold on, Spalding Gray is in town with a new show, a new table.’ I’m proud that was my contribution.”
Leftover Stories to Tell, presented by UCLA Live! at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse, Wed.-Sat., June 14-17, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 18, 7 p.m. Cast varies. (310) 825-2101 or uclalive.org.
Charles L. Mee’s adaptation of Aeshylus’ Greek tragedy (the first in this theater’s season, called Three by Mee) concentrates, like Homer’s The Odyssey, on the impulses behind cruelty and war. This is the story of the eponymous general (Troy Dunn) upon his return from a 10-year military campaign to his wife, Clytemnestra (Marie-Françoise Theodore), who seethes that her husband sacrificed their daughter to the gods for favorable sea winds. Frederique Michel stages the play as a choreographed recitation, with a Greek chorus of what appear to be decapitated heads, one of which is a figurehead bust, bolted to the stem of a boat. Michel juxtaposes the violence of the words with, for her, an uncharacteristically gentle staging — as sensuous as it is disciplined in movement and tone, so that the barbaric epic unfolds with a blend of eroticism, religiosity and moments of ironic humor. This is one of the most rarefied and beautiful productions around, aided by shifting, projected images of ancient stone in Charles A. Duncombe’s production design, and recordings of Arvo Pärt’s haunting choral backdrops. City Garage, 1340½ Fourth St. (west alley), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. (“pay what you can”), 5:30 p.m.; thru July 23. (310) 319-9939. See Stage feature next week.
GO DEMETER IN THE CITY Shishir Kurup directs Sarah Ruhl’s new play with music about mothers and daughters (lyrics by Ruhl, music by Kurup and David Markowitz) — a contemporary Southern California riff on the Greek myth of Demeter (Bahi Turpin) and Persephone (Sadé Moore). In the legend, the Devil (Sonny Valicenti) snatches Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, who becomes queen of the underworld. The tears from Demeter’s grief drown Thebes, until Zeus (Peter Howard) intercedes to negotiate a settlement. Ruhl’s heroin-addicted Demeter from Compton gets her baby girl snatched away by Child Services and, years later, by the devil in disguise as a Young Republican on a college campus, which itself hints at the play’s finger-pointing satire. The creators don’t do well weaving the threads of polemic, spoof, tragedy and docudrama, but even this overstuffed burger has an unexpected appeal, thanks in large part to some splendid performances and the disarmingly good-natured cooks in the kitchen. Cornerstone Theater Company at REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., dwntwn.; Wed.-Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 5 & 9 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru June 18. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO THE TINA DANCE As a locus for innovative and often controversial performances, Highways doesn’t disappoint with Michael Kearns’ latest offering, a collectively written docudrama about the crystal methamphetamine crisis that focuses on true-to-life stories from the gay community. Declaring, “Crystal meth is officially out of the closet,” the “actors” in the piece play themselves (with a couple of exceptions) and detail their own dances with “tina” in a half-celebratory, half-revelatory style. While some of the darker, more serious vignettes are powerful, the piece shines most brightly in its comedic moments that are often more incisive, despite the laughter and farce. The climax of this style is in the personification of Tina (Ian MacKinnon), the “bitch goddess” who makes “Hurricane Katrina look like Mother Teresa.” MacKinnon, in a snakeskin dress with high heels, argyle socks, jelly bracelets and a teased blond wig interlaced with hypodermic needles and test tubes, often steals the show with his (her?) outrageous personality. Kearns’ direction emphasizes the communal aspect of the piece, and the entire cast gives strong performances. Particular standouts include Corey Saucier and Chris Rodriguez. The piece seems cathartic for both the performers and the audience in true “heal as you reveal” style. Highways East at Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., June 16 & 17, 8 p.m.; then at Space at Fountain’s End, 3929 Fountain Ave., Silver Lake; Sun., June 25, 4 p.m. (323) 856-6168. (Mayank Keshaviah)