Perhaps the central problem inherent in adapting a theatrical production to film is overcoming the limitations of the stage and opening it up for the big screen. This would be problem enough with the normal stage production; how much worse when dealing with a single actor seated at a table with a glass of water spouting a 90-minute monologue. So when an award-winning director like Steven Soderbergh commits to taking on a property like Spalding Gray's Gray's Anatomy, the first thing he has to think about is how to translate the monologue's static claustrophobia into something that will play on the screen.
In a short commentary included as part of the bonus material in the new Criterion Collection of Soderbergh's film, he explains some of his thinking. First of all, concerned with distinguishing his production from other films of Gray monologues like Jonathan Demme's Swimming to Cambodia, he decided to eliminate the audience. Since a large part of Gray's appeal is his ability to play off the audience, this would seem to be the equivalent of a fighter tying one hand behind his back. That Soderbergh is able to get away with it, and for many viewers he is able to get away with it, is testimony to his talent as a filmmaker.
Instead of the audience, he has Gray play to the camera, and he uses the camera as a dynamic force. The actor may be seated at his table, but the camera moves actively—different angles, changing heights and distances. He can even move the actor in his chair to create action. Soderbergh talks about linking the visual environment to the content. He does this with backdrops; he does it with creative use of lighting. In the end he comes up with a visually impressive adaptation.
His inclusion of interviews with a number of men and women who had suffered from a variety of eye injuries from an embedded wire to a spray of oven cleaner was, as he explains, necessitated by the fact that the material he had filmed with Gray after the original monologue had been cut down was too short. Of course, the fact that the interviews both opened up the film a bit and added other voices, to say nothing of their dramatic nature simply demonstrate that necessity may also be the mother of serendipity.