Part homage, part invention and part autobiography, Who Killed Spalding Gray? is the latest one-hander from Daniel MacIvor, the actor-playwright who links his life with Gray, the American monologist who ended his life by leaping off the Staten Island Ferry in 2004. The Globe and Mail spoke with MacIvor, who splits his time now between Toronto and Nova Scotia, about truth, reality and questions hard to answer.
Just so our readers are clear, Who Killed Spalding Gray? is not a murder mystery, correct?
It's not. Or is it? For those who don't know, Spalding killed himself in 2004. So the question becomes, on some level, did he kill himself or was it outside forces? What was this thing that would have driven a person to take their own life, and is there culpability in that? There are a number of potential answers to that question, beyond the obvious facts.
Do we get to know who Spalding Gray was?
I give a little sketch of the man, but really the show is a comedy about depression. It's about this disquiet that he had that many of us are familiar with, and the way he tried to solve that problem.
Does the play get into the car accident that caused him so much much physical and emotional problems near the end of his life?
It's nothing we talk about too much. Spalding had tried to go down this road many times. Suicide was always looming for him. So, the question becomes, had he not had the car accident, would he have taken this action? And the answer to that seems to be no.
Spalding was troubled about the selling of his house. He felt an evil force or voodoo was causing him to sell it. Around the same time, you travelled to California to see a psychic surgeon to have an entity removed. Can you talk about that parallel?
Well, getting back to the title of the play, there's a sense that my visit to the healer set everything in motion. I'm certainly looking for connections between Spalding and I. One of them is the house, actually. The concept of house, in a Jungian sense, has always played a big part in my work. There's a belief in what you call voodoo which we share. And I had, at age 17, a near-fatal car accident, which involved a depressed skull fracture, similar to the injury which Spalding had. So there are many, many connections between Spalding and myself, as we perform our own lives.
I'm beginning to worry about you.
I've taken a different road. And doing the show is indicative of that. A lot of my previous work had an aggressiveness at the centre, but this play has a gentleness and a kindness. It feels healthy.
To what do you attribute this change?
[Long pause.] Making peace with things, I guess. Accepting things one can't change. I got sober seven years ago. I practice meditation. I practice, I fail and I practice some more. It's about calmness.
Do we get to know you in this play?
Spalding told stories about his life and said they were true. I've told stories about my life and said they weren't true. I say I'm Daniel MacIvor when I introduce myself. But am I? Is it true? Am I acting? The central question becomes what's real, what's true.
Life's great mystery.
Yeah. And I don't have any answers. When I'm performing and when I'm on stage, it feels like something's real. It feels like something is happening in the room. But the older I get, the less I know. As the weeks pass, the less answers I have.
Who Killed Spalding Gray? runs Dec. 1 to 11 (preview, Nov. 30). $39 to $69. Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre, 26 Berkeley St., 416-368-3110 or canadianstage.com