Spalding Gray Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Spalding Gray’s reputation is almost entirely based on his dramatic monologues. He also wrote a collection of short stories entitled Seven Scenes from a Family Album (1981) and a thinly veiled autobiographical novel Impossible Vacation (1992).

Gray worked as an actor for the Performance Group and the Wooster Group, appeared onstage in a number of shows, and performed his own monologues. He also appeared in several films including adaptations of Swimming to Cambodia (1987), Monster in a Box (1992), and Gray’s Anatomy (1997).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Spalding Gray was considered mainly a performance artist rather than a playwright. He received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978), Rockefeller Foundation (1979), and Edward Albee Foundation (1985) as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978) and the Rockefeller Foundation (1979). He was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985. Despite Gray’s identity as a performance artist, in 1985 he was awarded an Obie Award, a Special Citation for his work as an actor and writer for Swimming to Cambodia. He was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards (Best Male Lead and Best Screenplay) for the film adaptation of the show.

As a performer Gray was involved with many of the important theatrical groups of the mid-to late twentieth century. After leaving Richard Schechner’s Performance Group, he helped found the Wooster Group in 1977, which would go on to be one of the most significant New York companies of the later part of the twentieth century. Despite this storied background, Gray managed to become an even more influential artist once he left the Wooster Group to become a solo artist.

Gray, along with performers such as Laurie Anderson and Eric Bogosian, was credited with bringing a performance-based aesthetic deeper into the mainstream. Gray helped show the mass appeal of “performance art,” a feat that was especially important in the mid-1980’s when National Endowment for the Arts funding was coming under fire. His autobiographical, anecdotal work helped pave the way for other performance artists who explore issues of the self in their work. Gray’s success with his nonaggressive performance pieces opened up the New York downtown theater scene to audiences who might otherwise not have ventured south of Times Square.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Auslander, Philip. Presence and Resistance: Postmodernism and Cultural Politics in Contemporary American Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. In his chapter about Gray and Laurie Anderson, Auslander explores the relationship between postmodern performance art and popular culture.

Leverett, James. “Introduction: Spalding Gray.” In Extreme Exposure: An Anthology of Solo Performance Texts from the Twentieth Century. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2000. This book is a collection of performance pieces. In his introductions, Leverett attempts to codify the concept of performance art and show how each of the individuals profiled fit within that codification.

Peterson, Michael. Straight White Male: Performance Art Monologues. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997. Compares the work of Gray, Eric Bogosian, and others. Peterson attempts to show the difference between standup comics and performance artists.

Phelan, Peggy. “Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia: The Article.” Critical Texts 5, no. 1 (1988): 27-30. A feminist reading of Gray’s most important work. Phelan questions the validity of the work as a self-expressive piece, based on Gray’s use of sarcasm as a way to protect himself.