Cambodia notwithstanding, the primary if unstated subject of Spalding Gray’s monologues is always Gray himself, his obsessions, fascinations and wonderfully wry perspectives on all that touches him. It was only a matter of time — this is his 14th monologue — before he turned his microscope unflinchingly and unapologetically onto himself, and “Gray’s Anatomy” proves as seductive as anything he’s done.
Not that Gray, who set something of a modern standard for the art of monologue with “Swimming to Cambodia,” takes any stylistic leaps here. His longtime director, Renee Shafransky, understandably chooses not to tinker with past success. The look is the same — wooden table and chair, glass of water, pile of papers, old-fashioned desk microphone, spare lighting — and the approach is just as recognizable. Gray remains an idiosyncratic blend of irony and amiability, fussy and disheveled at the same time, anxious and incisive yet reassuring in his humanity. With his buttery voice and snap timing, Gray is as polished a performer as he is a writer, a fact often overlooked in his deceptively simple presentation. In “Anatomy,” Gray the comic actor is in top form.
Jumping point in the story is Gray’s “macula pucker,” a moderately serious eye condition requiring surgery. Ever the doomsayer, Gray decides to investigate every avenue of alternative medicine before he submits to the relatively minor operation that he convinces himself will lead to a glass eye.
His obsession with finding a risk-free cure takes him to an American Indian sweat lodge, a crackpot “nutritional ophthalmologist” and a Philippine con man known as the “Elvis Presley of psychic surgeons.” Whether everything he says is literally true, artistic elaboration or a combination becomes beside the point: His always witty tale-telling, which takes the listener down any number of amusing side roads, is a world in itself, reflective of our own yet delightfully skewed.
As could be expected, there’s an underlying purpose to all of Gray’s navel contemplation. “Gray’s Anatomy” is a travelogue of at least three different planes: the geographic, the physical and the spiritual. How Gray proceeds from the notion of minor surgery to contemplations on mortality and, in the end, a lovely reaffirmation of life is better observed than described, and well worth the observing.