`Morning' creates illusion of candor

Review: Spalding Gray addresses fatherhood in his latest work.

April 28, 2001|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN STAFF

He sits at a bare wooden table, talking virtually nonstop, occasionally sipping a glass of water and waggling his knees. The timing of the drinks seems choreographed to occur after a particular line, to punctuate a pause. The toe-tapping does not.

Is he Spalding Gray? Ozzie Russo? Or a carefully calibrated, artfully presented version of both?

Gray's life has been the fodder for 18 autobiographical monologues in which he has compulsively discussed the most intimate details of his life, from a stint making pornographic movies to a visit to an American Indian sweat lodge, from his mother's suicide to playing a bit part in "The Killing Fields."

Ozzie Russo is his alter ego in "Morning, Noon and Night," his newest monologue. The "Ozzie" part is his ironic comment on his transformation, at age 58, into the father of three children aged 11, 4, and 9 months, whom he is raising outside his beloved New York City in an old Victorian house on Long Island. "Russo" is the last name of his companion and the children's mother, Kathie Russo. The monologue, loosely structured on James Joyce's "Ulysses," talks about one day in the family's life, Oct. 8, 1997.

But the Spalding Gray or Ozzie Russo on stage shouldn't be mistaken for the real man. And Gray's stories shouldn't be mistaken for the unmediated truth, even if every word actually happened.

The monologues' chief charm always has been Gray's relentless candor, his seeming refusal to censor himself. At times, that's also been their chief irritation, because nothing large or small escapes his scrutiny - his ruminations on whether to have another child, his decision to urinate in his back yard before embarking on a bike ride. But if at times Gray is acutely unlikable - at one point, he tells Kathie that he's willing to have another baby only if a medical test determines the child will be a girl - to his credit, he never hesitates to present himself in a poor light.

It's not that Gray's usual preoccupations have vanished. The monologue begins with Gray looking out his window at a cemetery, and ends at a funeral. The title, "Morning, Noon and Night," refers not just to a day, but also to the life cycle.

But the appearance of total openness is just that. Gray always has been careful how he portrayed the women in his life, but even within these strictures, the audience caught a whiff of the daily acts of heroism and betrayal on both sides. Kathie (and before her, Renee, and before her, Liz) were adults who chose to be involved with Gray. They knew what they were getting into.

But children are a different matter, and Gray understandably is more protective of them. So while he discusses the ambivalence of fatherhood, he betrays little of any parent's mixed feelings about the specific people involved. The closest he comes in the printed version of the monologue is to vent his spleen at his stepdaughter Marissa's biological father. That's a wise and appropriate decision, grown-up even.

And yet, too often the man on stage is Ozzie Russo relaying cute family anecdotes: kids say the darndest things. I can't help missing my old friend, Spalding Shades-of-Gray.


What: Spalding Gray's "Morning, Noon and Night"

Where: Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St.

When: 8 tonight Tickets: $32

Call: 410-332-0033

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