I'm chatting on the phone with the writer/performer during a break in his latest tour. [Gray is currently performing his monologue, Morning, Noon and Night, at Providence's Trinity Rep, after appearing in Los Angeles, New York, and New Hampshire.] He is talking to me from his home on Long Island, and the soundtrack he's referring to is the background noise of his two young sons having a kid-like discussion--okay, a fight--over the fate of the TV screen. Nintendo, or a Muppets video?
Not quite the sounds you'd expect to emanate from the digs of the angst-ridden, too-cool-for-cool Soho urbanite you know as Spalding Gray? The monologist who brought us the autobiographical Swimming to Cambodia, based on his experiences in Thailand during the filming of Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields? And the equally exotic Gray's Anatomy, which dealt with his trip to the Philippines to find way-out cures for his eye-ailment?
Yes, the sounds of happy domesticity are a bit of a shock for those of us familiar with Gray's It's a Slippery Slope. That recent work chronicled his near-nervous breakdown and the end of his long-term relationship with writer-director Renee Shafransky, a breakup brought on in part by his bad-boy behavior and shamelessly huge "I won't grow up" male ego.
So try this on for size: Gray's latest monologue, Morning, Noon and Night, describes one day (October 8, 1997) in the life of his new-found nuclear-family: Gray and his girlfriend, Kathie; their baby, Theo; their five-year-old son, Forrest; and Kathie's pre-teen daughter, Marissa. It's an all-American family album, a normal day of "oohs" and "ahhs" and Tickle Me Ernies in upscale Sag Harbor. Gray is a father in awe, talking about his kids. He rides his bike and walks to the video store. He prepares dinner and listens to pop music.
Will the real Spalding Gray please stand up?
"In the grandest Walt Whitman sense, I'm full of contradictions," Gray offers. Critics are calling Morning, Noon and Night, which officially opened in Chicago last fall after a work-in-progress outing early in the year, "an uncharacteristically radiant, life-affirming chronicle," one which is "a liberating experience for [Gray] and for us."
Both Morning, Noon and Night and the fact that he's living each day as a father and family man are as surprising to Gray as to anyone. Performing the monologue is a different experience for the man who never tires of his own neuroses. "It's been a really joyous event for me," he says. "It leaves me feeling like I'm in a much more peaceful place--an up, celebratory place I never dreamed was in me--and that's been a real treat."
Of his latest transition, Gray says: "My life is much more balanced now with the family, and I hadn't expected that. The character of Spalding Gray is more grounded than he's ever been."