Run into anybody with a kid and they’ll tell you cute stories about the little monster(s) as long as you can stand to listen. But longtime fans may be disconcerted to find that Spalding Gray, a former high priest of counterculture, has gone soft and paternal in middle age. In his latest show, he’s turned his trademark format into the theatrical equivalent of flip-out wallet photos encased in plastic.
Instead of his typical musings about spiritual healers, suicide and the evils of Hollywood, the newly cheery Gray offers up clever but sometimes twee tales about life with the kids that would appeal more to the Family Channel than to Bravo. At least his ready wit, singular level of introspection and incomparable presentation skills have not gone as soft as the rest of his once-radical soul.
As viewers may know from previous monologues that combine performance material with personal confession and narrative, Gray dumped his 14-year marriage when his girlfriend, Kathie, became unexpectedly pregnant. She subsequently gave birth to Forrest. Kathie already had a child named Marissa from a previous relationship, and a boy named Theo has been recently added to the Gray brood on Long Island.
Beginning with the strains of “Morning Edition” and ending with Gray being kicked to sleep by his youngest kid, “Morning, Noon and Night” is a day in the life of this happy, post-modern family. After opening officially at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, the monologue will be showing up at Lincoln Center beginning Nov. 7, and will tour the country at Gray’s regular haunts.
Most of the comedy revolves around the cerebral Gray dealing with tantrums, diapers and tweenagers who love the Spice Girls. There are also lots of comparisons of the frenetic life in Manhattan with his new and tranquil seaside abode. Gray evinces a surprising affection for his new quiet life. As with all Gray’s previous works, the artist expresses his usual worries about death – but this time they revolve around the horror of leaving behind his son.
The best sections in the show are when Gray intertwines elements of his new life with recollections of the old. One hilarious section involves the artist mowing his grass and remembering a lawnmower used in an O’Neill deconstruction at the Performance Garage. Big laughs also come from Gray’s attempts to explain the world to his young kid by using the language of semiotics and deconstruction.
Once you adjust to the new Spalding Gray, the show does have its charm. Gray has lost none of his mastery of a form he pretty much invented. And it’s possible that the cuddly new Spalding will actually find himself appealing to a broader audience. But since he seems to be spending his life hanging out at home in domestic bliss, heaven knows what he will find to write about next.