Spalding Gray, the 43-year-old veteran of the performance art circuit, has one simple act: He sits behind a brown table, turns on a reading lamp, and tells you what has been going on in his life -- yesterday, or last year or many years ago.
That's all he does.
Unlike Philip Glass, or Laurie Anderson, or Robert Wilson or Meredith Monk (the circuit's other big names), Gray does not go in for special effects.
No laser beams.
No video screens.
Just his voice.
This week and next, in a spare room in Soho, Gray spins his voice into a brilliantly colored tapestry. Using only a rough outline in "Swimming to Cambodia," his current piece, he tells of his experience as an actor in "The Killing Fields," a movie about New York Times reporter Sydney H. Schanberg and his assistant Dith Pran in Cambodia during the reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge.
The two-part monologue begins with Gray on location in Thailand in 1983, playing a small role as assistant to the American ambassador to Cambodia. There, he had plenty of time to observe the filming of the movie about one of the worst bloodbaths in history. With detached and bittersweet irony, he relays this experience over the course of 2 1/2 hours, weaving personal accounts into the monologue.
His description of the drug scene in Thailand: "I felt like I was in this demented Wallace Stevens poem with food poisoning." His "pursuit of the perfect moment" on a beach in Thailand, while his girlfriend, who joined him on location, coaxes him back to their summer cottage in Krumville, N.Y.: "Now Krumville, New York, was looking less and less interesting the longer I was in Thailand."
Gray in his monologue never makes it clear what he's searching for, but the closest he came was during the filming of a war scene. "Then one day we were flying in a helicopter over the jungle, lush green below and purple-yellow skies above. Below us were the extras lying in 110-degree heat. Raw meat and fake blood covered their bodies. Suddenly I thought I have been here before. We were flying over the same jungle used in "Apocalypse Now" and I thought to myself, 'So this is war.' "
On his return to the States, Gray suffered a nervous breakdown following several setbacks. He got an agent. He tried out for "Karate Kid" and "Hill Street Blues" and even went to the wire for the role of Patty Duke's husband in "Hail to the Chief," a new TV sitcom about the first woman president.
But he didn't get any of those roles, he says in the monologue, and retreated to the Hamptons. Now he is reading on the small stage in the Performing Garage (33 Wooster St.), where he started five years ago as a performance artist.