Leftover Stories to Tell was simultaneously moving and hilarious, a pretty amazing feat for any performance and an especially impressive accomplishment for a live set of “covers” of an iconic storyteller’s works. Initially suspicious (especially when the performers began uncovering the set to the tune of a blaring Spice Girls song), I was quickly won over by the five different speakers channeling the late great monologuist. An endearing photo of Gray mid-rant included in the the accompanying literature provided a visual reference for his appearance. I found myself imagining this Gray living out the stories that the Gray surrogates on stage were telling without any sense of disorientation. As four men and one woman took turns reciting from both his published and unpublished works, each took on an aspect of Gray’s personality in a conceit that, though oddly similar to short-lived early 90′s sitcom, Inside Herman’s Head, was enacted with far greater nuance here. While Herman’s personality was neatly divided into Lust, Sensitivity, Anxiety and Intellect, Gray’s was divvied up into less definable but still discernible categories. Calvin Johnson was the embodiment of Gray’s youthful lust and restlessness, fidgeting, gesticulating and putting his feet on the furniture. One man was a sort of everyman Gray fading into the background physically and allowing the story to come forward without leaving a much of a visual impression. A darkly handsome, vaguely European man covered Gray’s more somber and eventually suicidal thoughts. Visually, gesturally and vocally, Hazelle Goodman was emphatically herself–an elegant, commanding, black woman–while still believably conjuring up Gray’s ghost. When Kenny Mellman stepped in briefly to discuss Gray’s adventures in show business, he reminded me the self-conscious charm of David Sedaris, one of the few memoirists who comes close to Gray’s skillful blend of humor and profundity. He also reminded of a less than satisfactory “cover” of Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries I’d seen performed last Christmas, which left me wishing i’d just stayed home and listened to Sedaris himself on tape. While that performance was like Michael Bolton’s cover of the Beatles song “Yesterday,” revealing both the flawed writing and skilled delivery of the song’s authors, Leftover Stories to Tell was more like Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” adding new dimensions while honoring the song’s original creator.
Jessica Bromer