Who Killed Spalding Gray? Daniel MacIvor and the deceptive art of storytelling
by Drew Rowsome - Production photos by Guntar Kravish
"One can't be a liar if they are a storyteller," says Daniel MacIvor, blatantly lying. But by that point in Who Killed Spalding Gray? the audience is so mesmerized and discombobulated that we believe him. Along with all his other lies. Or perhaps truths.
MacIvor has a string of plays - His Greatness, The Best Brothers, A Beautiful View, Arigato Tokyo, Cake and Dirt - that have haunted Toronto's stage in the last few years, but before then he was known for his extraordinary one-man shows including House, Here Lies Henry, Monsterand Cul-de-Sac. The one-man shows were powerful enough that when he retired his company, da da kamera, with a celebratory farewell season at Buddies in Bad Times, it was a theatrical event not soon to be rivalled. Fortunately he has not abandoned the monologue form and Who Killed Spalding Gray? is a worthy addition to the canon.
Artists don't work in vacuums and MacIvor acknowledges his influences, co-opts them, quotes them, and playfully deflates them. Not only Spalding Gray, the master of storytelling monologues, but also Tim Burton who uses film, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne who use multi-media and music, but also MacIvor's former works are lauded and vivisected. MacIvor casually ambles on stage and begins a conversational dialogue with a random audience member that appears spontaneous. Perhaps it is (even though it echoes throughout the evening in a haunting way). The point is made that the audience has come to experience a play but MacIvor is going to play with that experience.
MacIvor tells a personal story of psychic surgery, tells a Spalding Gray-esque story, impersonates Helena Bonham Carter, offers commentary, and calls attention to the theatricality by pausing before every dramatic lighting effect. He and his cohorts, director Daniel Brooks and lighting designer Kimberly Purtell, are too skilled for this not to be deliberate. They are emphasizing the fourth wall, the artifice, and therefore telling us the truth. By lying. Who Killed Spalding Gray? is a puzzle designed by an unreliable narrator and presented as fact, or maybe not. Either MacIvor is comfortable putting himself exposed on stage, or he is a brilliant actor playing Daniel MacIvor, as well as the rest of the characters. I suspect the latter.
The multiples threads, all fascinating, some eerie and disturbing, some comic, slowly twine together and tighten into a non-conclusive conclusion. The final moment, the last dramatic flourish, having been telegraphed, falls a little flat, but that may also have been just the silence of an audience stunned into submission. There is a lot to process, a lot of dots to connect, and the sudden realization that while MacIvor has been entertaining and chatting with a faux-casualness, ideas and imagery have been planted deep into our souls.
MacIvor explicitly tells us that "It's not your fault," then indicts us. Chews over why it is easier for him to confess to a crack addiction than to an addiction to romance. Book covers lead to a series of coincidences that just might be a master plan. He lies, cajoles and gets at some deep truths. Who Killed Spalding Gray? is dizzying, puzzling, spellbinding and quite possibly a crock of shit, or maybe gold. MacIvor may be a liar but he is one extraordinary storyteller.
Who Killed Spalding Gray? continues until Sun, Dec 11 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. canadianstage.com