An intimate theater – the Performing Garage in New York. As the audience waits, quietly talking, a slight, grey-haired man in a plaid shirt and jeans emerges from the shadows. He walks to the stage, sits down at a worn wooden table in front of a microphone and opens a notebook decorated with farm animals. He takes a sip of water and begins to read.
This is the opening scene from Jonathan Demme’s film “Swimming to Cambodia,” and the man is writer, actor and monologue artist Spalding Gray.
In his celebrated and well-crafted monologues, Gray charmed his audience while revealing aspects of his private life that most people would be reluctant to share. His skills as a storyteller were so profound, remembered one friend, that it was a pleasure just to sit around a loft and hear him recount the events of his day.
He made a career of his monologue skills; in fact, he reinvented the most ancient of theatrical devices, storytelling – creating a whole new genre in the process. But as it turns out, there was much more to his story than was brought to the stage.
Writer and editor Nell Casey was given full access to Gray’s unpublished material, from diaries, audiotapes and therapy sessions to notes written on scraps of paper, and has collected them in “The Journals of Spalding Gray.” What emerges is a fascinating picture of a driven and disciplined, yet highly emotional and self-destructive artist, chronicling his struggle with depression and, ultimately, the decision to take his own life.
In Gray’s writing we find private secrets within performed secrets, unspoken confessions behind public ones. “The Journals of Spalding Gray” reveals humor, irony and, above all, searing honesty from a man whose story we thought we already knew.
Nell Casey,, editor of “The Journals of Spalding Gray” (Knopf). Casey is also the editor of "Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression" and "An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family," which won a Books for Better Life Award.
Writer’s Block will host Nell Casey in conversation with LA Times’ Book Critic David Ulin and actors, including Peter Gallagher, who will read from the Journals of Spalding Grey – tonight, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Laemmle Sunset 5 Theaters on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood. For more information, click here.