Spalding Knows Best

In his latest monologue, It's a Slippery Slope, Spalding Gray says, "I always expected that one day all the people that were booking me in theaters, as well as the audience, would say, 'Well, enough of that guy's story. On to the next.'"

Such a thought is classic Spalding Gray, whose trademark is self-absorption. Happily for him, for us and for his wallet, the past eight years have given Gray an entirely different story to tell. In Gray's grand tradition of catching himself with his pants down, Slippery Slope explored a new obsession--learning to ski--a revelation that hit him atop Arizona's own Snowbowl. While a good portion of that monologue is devoted to his painful, hilarious and ultimately successful attempts at learning to ski, the piece very publicly reveals a dark personal adventure--Gray's adulterous affair and its fallout, including the birth of his first child, Forrest.

Thus comes his next monologue, Morning, Noon & Night, a work in progress to be officially premiered at the Goodman Theater in Chicago in September. For years Scottsdale has been one of the places where Gray "practices" his pieces before he'll call them done. Gray has a new life. That old "neurotic, complicated" relationship with Renee/Ramona is over. He and Kathie, Forrest's mother, have had a second son, Theo, together and are actively doing the family thing. Many days Gray used to spend on monologues, films, books or performances are now devoted to parenting. And it's one of those days, October 8, 1997, that is the subject of Gray's latest piece.

Forrest, a verbal child whom Gray admits is his father's son, is the central character in the monologue. The day begins by Gray waking with the "sun" (the fiery mass) and ends with being kicked by the "son" (Forrest) as dad puts him to bed. "It's more about the struggle within the home--the chaos--and how the chaos will come together," Gray says. "It's a good day in our life, and [the piece] celebrates that good day."

Fatherhood's changed him in a major way. He admits "I'm less ironic, more nurturing, more able to directly express love." In his past relationship with Renee/Ramona, Gray says he played the child. He now recognizes that he needed to have children in order to grow up, and sounds happily convinced that he's done so.

The new, evolved Gray is still performing Slippery Slope as a way to "keep it in shape," and because it's a natural segue to Morning, Noon & Night. And while he enjoys the ease of performing a polished piece, he says it's not as exciting as the natural, organic discoveries he makes when nursing along a work in progress. Sorta like being a dad, perhaps.

--Tricia W. Parker

Spalding Gray performs his work in progress, Morning, Noon & Night, at 8 p.m. Thursday, February 4; and the same time Friday, February 5, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts in the Cinema theater; and his monologue It's a Slippery Slope at 8 p.m. Saturday, February 6, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Tickets are $24 and $26. 994-2787.

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Tricia Wasbotten Parker