written and performed by
Swimming to Spalding is a monologue piece concerning performance artist Lian Amariss adventures in finding the perfect moment, a reference to the late monologist Spalding Grays perfect moment in his piece Swimming to Cambodia. Ms. Amaris discovered Gray’s Cambodiain college as preparatory work for a project and became enamored of it. The interest Ms. Amaris has with Spalding Grays adventures triggers her own adventure as she follows in his footsteps in Thailand.
Not just his metaphorical footsteps, but often painfully literal reenactments of his actions such as buying a Thai prostitute for the night or attempting to smoke a Thai Stick even thought she admits she doesnt really like marijuana and just pretends to puff. For rabid fans of Spalding Gray, this may sound like a beguiling premise or a great vacation idea. But it is not a beguiling premise for a theater piece.
The direction by Richard Schechner is competent, and Ms. Amaris is a charismatic performer, however they have chosen a stilted pace that may mimic Spalding Grays, but does not flow naturally within the framework of their own creation. The show is uneven, meandering and, off-puttingly, more than mildly derisive of men.
Ms. Amaris highlights her journey with discussions about prostitutes (male and female), lady-boy shows and musings of her tuk-tuk trips. She chooses an odd story about two Australian soldiers on leave, one extremely nice to her and the other perhaps a closest homosexual, as a jumping off point to trash men in general, and two of her liaisons in particular.
She discusses disturbing relationships with two other much more violent and unpredictable men in order to make the point that men are capable of great and horrible things. It isnt much of a revelation. Later, she references three of these men to equate men in general with an earth-engulfing evil apparently overlooking the soldier who was nice to her, because he wasnt an asshole.
Ms. Amaris has a lyrical and beautiful way with words, but after unraveling the texture and imagery, there is very little meaning within. Early in the show she admits she has a near-constant running commentary within her own head. In Swimming to Spalding she shares the commentary with us but without the context or underlying emotion.
Ms. Amaris does ultimately find her perfect moment and tries to share it with the audience, but the moment itself clashes so completely with the tone of the rest of the piece that the audience is left to wonder why we have been on this journey.