Who Killed Spalding Gray? takes a look back at the popular actor and writer, on Toronto stages
With Daniel MacIvor, one always leaves wondering: “how much of that is fact and how much is fiction?” Who Killed Spalding Gray?, at Canadian Stage until 11 December, is much the same — there are all manner of threads about loss and grief and imagination that get knotted up and smoothed out in this production.
When the show was over, it felt like I’d been served some very lovely window dressing that almost, but not entirely, concealed how very much this show is about neither the facts or the fictions, but the Truth.
Actor and writer Spalding Gray was known to have struggled with depression. He committed suicide a few years after a traumatic brain injury, on an afternoon after seeing the movie Big Fish in New York. Oliver Sacks once described him as “a brilliant inventor of the truth,” which is a sentiment one could also apply to Daniel MacIvor—though you’d need to tilt the context just a few degrees.
I had imagined that the Who in the title of this show was going to be choosing among the above set of options. Without spoiling, I will tell you for sure that MacIvor presented one I hadn’t ever considered.
I am a longtime admirer of MacIvor’s work, and especially of his collaborations with director Daniel Brooks and dramaturge Iris Turcott, of which there have been many. Turcott, a formidable woman and a legend of Canadian theatre, died recently and I found that I couldn’t quite not think about her during the play.
How it must have been for him, to do this piece of work about death and loss. In a way, I found that it polarized the piece—the parts that were just so, just real, felt as perfect as it is possible for a piece of theatre to get. And then there was some other theatre-y stuff that I shrugged at while I waited for the story I’d come for (though I didn’t know I had) to unfold.
I didn’t mind Harold, but I didn’t care about him. The story, though — the long, improbable, frankly hilarious, shiver-inducing story of what (may have) connected the two? That was worth it all.
Also Helena Bonham Carter. I am not at all clear where she came from, but you’re going to like that part, too. Trust me.
Since we’re all making guesses at what Spalding Gray would have thought about it, I think he would have been quite charmed by the experience of being so unconventionally and idiosyncratically eulogized.
In the end, Who Killed Spalding Gray? felt a little bit like a priceless item that had been so well protected it was hard to access. There were parts I waited patiently through to get to the good stuff. But the good stuff is so good that I didn’t mind at all.
- Who Killed Spalding Gray? is playing until 11 December 2016, at Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.)
- Shows run every day except Monday; see website for show times
- Tickets range from $39-$69 and are available online or by calling the box office at 416-368-3110
- Performances run 80 minutes without an intermission
Photo of Daniel MacIvor by Guntar Kravis