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MORE ON 'Surviving David'

Life as Seen Through Loss

Published: August 17, 2005

In a solo-show memoir, "Surviving David," blond, chipper Kathryn Graf chops and mixes the stages of grief into unlikely new combinations. Some are inviting, some ugly, all self-revealing to a fault. She even adds a phase that's not on Dr. Kübler-Ross's chart: lust.

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Tony Sears

Kathryn Graf in "Surviving David."

New York International Fringe Festival
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"I need to be touched, to be covered," Ms. Graf moans at one point, letting her own fingers do the walking. Later, in the show's most moving moment, she slumps miserably against a wall, then turns to offer herself, as if in supplication to the unseen hands of her late husband, whose heart gave out just shy of his 51st birthday. Here Ms. Graf manages, under Tony Sears's sensitive direction, to bundle all her grasping and straining into a gesture as pure as prayer, as immanent as flesh. Elsewhere she mostly grasps and strains, in amped-up solo performance mode, to answer the question, "What do you do when your husband's dead?" She asks for but resents pity; tries to manage two pre-teenage sons without turning into her own evil stepmother; flies solo with the finances. And figures out how to find a partner for sex.

Ms. Graf may have a tendency to idealize: Her first post-marital squeeze turns out to be a family friend who miraculously had received David's blessing, and David himself appears as a lovable guy's guy in flashbacks (and once through a medium - the show is, after all, set mostly in Los Angeles). But Ms. Graf doesn't spare herself deep draughts of bitterness, exasperation and despair. For all her self-styled fortysomething-and-fabulous sheen, she finally makes her grief palpable, not palatable.

"Surviving David" will play four more performances through Aug. 26 at the Flea Theater, 41 White Street, near Broadway, TriBeCa.

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Photo: New York City Cabs, 1948
Photo: New York City Cabs, 1948