In “Swimming to Cambodia,” the monologue theater piece that became a popular movie, Spalding Gray plays Woody Allen’s oft-portrayed, anxiety-stifled character better than Allen ever could. The audience’s fascination may come from the conviction that Spalding Gray is not acting, but telling the truth, and he is. Although the genesis of his story may be seem spontaneous, the monologue is indeed as well-written as it is truthful.
The deeper fascination for the audience is the realization that we see through the character and the actor into the naked mind of the man called Gray with both dread and sympathy. Though we see that a person who is seriously neurotic or depressed is not us, the fascination grows because his character draws a picture so completely. In “Cambodia” Gray’s acting is equal to his writing ability.
Now, in ‘The Journals of Spalding Gray’ a review by Ron Rosenbaum of Gray’s previously unpublished personal story, we find the truth of it. Rosenbaum says: “It’s distressing to read the way happiness generates sadness and terror in Gray’s psyche, because his work could be the source of so much pleasure to his audiences.” Not that Bob Dylan ever accomplished any success as a poet, but he once said “A poet is a naked man.” I think that applies to Spalding Gray in his journals. See for yourself in this excerpt from the book which is now available for us to read: here.