In Elizabeth LeCompte’s 1978 production of »NAYATT SCHOOL«, the hitherto relatively unknown actor Spalding Gray brought to the stage for the first time what was to become his trademark and signalled the beginning of his meteoric theatre and film career: a »confession monologue«.
It collapsed the boundary between the text, action on stage and life behind the scenes in a way that had never been seen in the theatre before. With a record player and jug of water in front of him, Gray sat at a table, played records from his youth and provided a running commentary on them in a quirky mix of DJ set and stand-up performance: from an audio recording of T. S. Eliot’s »The Cocktail Party« to a skulladorned LP of early 1960s comedy-horror radio plays entitled »Drop Dead!«. He was visibly fascinated by the fate of one of Eliot’s main characters: Celia Copplestone.
Urged by a mysterious psychiatrist, she works herself up into a mystical missionary ecstasy and is eventually crucified and eaten by cannibals on a fictional Far Eastern island. Did Gray recognise in her the fate of his own mother who had also entered into a religious mania and ultimately taken her own life? With the plot spilling more and more out of the record player and onto the stage, the production erupted into scenes of grotesquely hallucinatory humour and finally climaxed in a surreal inferno in which not only all the records but also all the conventions of the stage were broken.
More than 40 years after that premiere and almost 20 years after the death of Spalding Gray — who, like his mother, took his own life during a depressive episode in 2004 — The Wooster Group is undertaking a daring attempt to bring this ground-breaking production back onto the stage in the form of a »redux« without its lead actor. In a collage of film and audio clips, documents from the archive, re-enactments of original scenes and testimonies from the actor Kate Valk, a milestone in the history of 20th century theatre gradually comes back to life.
Decades later, Valk is not only reworking her own role from the original production but is also slipping into that of Spalding Gray and supplementing both with her memories of the equally psychedelic genesis of the original. In the same way that Gray’s monologues were always dramatic reconstructions of his own memories, the performance becomes a theatrical reconstruction of both a group’s collective memory and its history.
With: Ari Fliakos, Andrew Maillet, Erin Mullin, Michaela Murphy, Suzzy Roche, Scott Shepherd, Kate Valk, Omar ZubairSound & Original Music: Eric Sluyter, Omar ZubairLighting: David SextonSet: Elizabeth LeCompteOriginal Video and 16mm Nayatt School film: Ken Kobland, Partial, video of Spalding Gray’s monologue taped at the Mickery Theater (1978)
Excerpts from »The Cocktail Party« used with permission of the T. S. Eliot estate.
(In English with German surtitles)