IN "Sex and Death to the Age 14," monologuist/actor Spalding Gray intimately details his own coming of age. In the third of six programs at the New Playwrights' Theater, he hilariously relives a loose chain of memories -- waking from the daydream of childhood to awareness of grown-up things like sexuality and the inevitability of death.
Using a parade of ill-fated pets as a framework, Gray drolly weaves together his Wonder Years, finding humor in sadness and painting himself, in his small way, into the historical Big Picture. In between the disappearing dogs and floating tropical fish, Gray tells of growing up in a Christian Scientist household in Rhode Island; of girls and dancing school, summer camp, discovering a friend's father's "pornographic photographic I-never-knew-such- a-thing-existed collection"; and of experiencing sex and death before he had the words to describe them.
It's not that Gray claims to have had an extraordinary youth. He didn't. These are the recollections of one American childhood, special in their very ordinariness. And it's certain that, given the platform and Gray's lack of inhibition, almost any member of the audience could equal these memories for substance and strangeness. But it's Gray's remarkably detailed memory, storytelling skill, unblushing candor and, above all, the sense of shared experience he creates that make this personal history so endearing. We can't help but dredge up a host of half-forgotten adolescent memories along with him.
Gray, who continues at New Playwrights' through May 12, is also presenting "A Personal History of the American Theater" this weekend, in which he recounts his early career as an actor.
SPALDING GRAY -- "Sex and Death to the Age 14" and "A Personal History of the American Theater." At New Playwrights' Theater through Sunday.