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THEATER REVIEW : Life's Harsh Lessons in Gray's 'Slippery' Monologue

May 08, 1996|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Spalding Gray, the eternal monologuist, has a new story about himself, which he is calling "It's a Slippery Slope" and which he is calling a work-in-progress.

The piece is already polished, though. At this point, its problems are both easily fixed and not fixable. As told to an audience at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall on Monday night, it was too long by 15 minutes. That's the easy part. What isn't fixable is Gray's subject, Gray himself. The author's relentless self-scrutiny, made entertaining by his awareness of his own absurdity, has always been the hallmark of his art. But in this story even Gray's strong suit, his brutal honesty about himself and his motives, eventually comes off as manipulative and whiny.

This time he tells of the terrors and joys of learning to ski, which of course have their parallels to the terrors and joys of life itself. He tells of a hilarious, if mean, prank he pulled while shooting a Steven Soderbergh movie, and he tells of turning 52, the age at which his mother committed suicide, and of his last, again hilarious, talk with his father before the old man's death.

*

The linchpin, where all these events come together in action, is when he finally marries his longtime partner (and collaborator and director) Renee Shafransky and at the same time steps up his passionate affair with a woman named Kathie. Lo and behold, Kathie gets pregnant. What's worse, she says it's her body and she wants to keep the baby whether he has anything to do with it or not. Our narrator describes how he rolled on the floor in agony at this decision.

Brutal honesty is crucial for any artist. But it's hard to picture Gray writhing in agony at this moment and not think, "Oh, just shut up."

* "It's a Slippery Slope," which plays through Thursday at UCLA, is part of "Five Nights and a Day With Spalding Gray." On Saturday and Sunday Gray will perform "Gray on Gray," or "Everything Reminds Me of Something," in which he responds to audience questions. UCLA's Schoenberg Hall, tonight through Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $26.50. $11 for UCLA students. (310) 825-2101.

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