One of the first performances I was ever really struck by while doing my undergrad was during my fourth year in a class called Theory of the Theatrical Event taught by Dr. Daniel Mroz. In this class we watched a number of archived performance videos, but Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia is one that I’ll never forget. How one man could be so engaging despite never moving out from behind his table set centre stage with nothing but a microphone, a glass of water, and a spiral notebook in front of him is an ability (albeit a rare one) that continues to impress me to this day. Storytelling (or monologing) might look easy, but it is a technique that is altogether more complex than just getting up on stage and speaking to your audience – which leads me to question the execution of Daniel MacIvor’s play Who Killed Spalding Gray? currently running as part of the Ontario Scéne Festival at the Irving Greenberg Centre.
The piece, written and performed by MacIvor and directed by Daniel Brooks, revolves around three seemingly independent stories: the days leading up to Spalding Gray’s suicide in 2004; the time that MacIvor spent with an Intuitive (see: psychic healer); and a fictitious man named How struggling to find ways to end his life. These stories are then told within the ‘categories’, or themes, of the four most important things in life: the ocean, the sky, swimming, and death. Certainly an emotionally-charged autobiographical piece on the one hand, on the other it appears that MacIvor neither possesses a keen mastery of public speaking nor is he able to maintain a solid momentum that is necessary for the emotional punches within the text to land with both immediacy and intensity.
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