Grey Gardens Review - Alive with Memories

The true story behind GREY GARDENS has intrigued creative minds for over 25 years. The play is based on a 1975 documentary film “Grey Gardens” by David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, and Susan Froemke. Albert Mayslies once remarked that the tale might be described as a Rorschach test:  some individuals in the audience might focus on what happened to two frustrated artistic souls without an outlet for their talents – or just as easily wonder how two mentally ill women managed to survive as long as they did. Director Michael Wilson opines that the play is really about family, dysfunctional relationships, and the unresolved issues that rise up to bite you when you’re not paying attention.

Bryan Batt and Rachel York - Photo by Craig Schwartz

From a 2006 book by playwright, librettist, and screenwriter Doug Wright with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, GREY GARDENS made the transition to musical. First produced in February 2006 at Playwrights Horizons to mixed reviews, GREY GARDENS was revised and opened on Broadway in November 2006 to enthusiastic reviews. In 2007, the musical was eventually nominated for ten Tony Awards and won three. Since that time, GREY GARDENS has been performed across the U.S. and internationally.

Sarah Hunt and Simon Jones - Photo by Craig Schwartz

GREY GARDENS spins the tale of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie), who just happen to be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin. The first act opens in 1941, when Big Edie is 47 years old and Little Edie is 24 years old. Dramatic license abounds as Big Edie sabotages Little Edie’s engagement to Joseph Kennedy. In fact, except for describing a family with boundless wealth and status, almost all of Act I is fictional.

Davon Williams, Peyton Ella, Katie Silverman, Simon Jones, and Sarah Hunt - Photo by Craig Schwartz

Act II takes place 32 years later, when Big Edie is 79 years old and Little Edie is 56 years old. The two penniless women still live in the Bouvier’s mansion in East Hampton, New York – now crumbling around them as they exist surrounded by trash, rats, and hordes of cats in the one room of 48 kept open. They are plagued by Department of Health officials as they subsist on cat food and corn. Sad to say, their poverty in Act II has been well documented.

Rachel York and Betty Buckley - Photo by Craig Schwartz

The cast does an excellent job of following the GREY GARDENS saga from riches to rags, occasionally punctuating poignant events with a chuckle. Talented Rachel York, who plays Big Edie in Act I and Little Edie in Act II, does a bang-up job of making the changes in their life style and their love/nate relationship seem very real. Betty Buckley, who plays Big Edie in Act II, held the audience in the palm of her hand every moment that she was onstage. Both skilled performers were ably assisted by Act I’s Little Edie (Sarah Hunt), Big Edie’s alcohol-loving pianist boyfriend George Gould Strong (Bryan Batt), Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (Josh Young), and even Jacquie Kennedy as a child (Katie Silverman).

Betty Buckley, Josh Young, and Rachel York - Photo by Craig Schwartz

Perhaps one of the biggest stars in the entire production was the stage set. Designed by Jeff Cowie, the scenery also ran the gamut from riches to rags. The beauty and elegance of the curving staircase, accented by chandeliers and multiple designer details, falls to ruin almost before your eyes.  Frequent musical interludes advanced the plot; but, unfortunately, none of the music was especially memorable or “hum-able.” GREY GARDENS also felt over-long, repetitively beating a dead horse long after the audience probably got the point. This issue rose with a vengeance in Act II. Regardless of these misfires, GREY GARDENS offers a pleasant evening and gives the audience the chance to experience a bit of history.

Rachel York - Photo by Craig Schwartz

GREY GARDENS runs through August 14, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Ahmanson Theatre is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $25 to $130. For information and reservations, call 213-972-4400 or go online at the Centre Theatre Group.

Davon Williams and Rachel York - Photo by Craig Schwartz

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