Categories

Grey Gardens – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 19, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Nicky McDonnell as Little Edie - Photos by Matt Liptak

Nicky McDonnell as Little Edie – Photos by Matt Liptak

For those of you who saw the 1976 Maysles brothers’ documentary of the two Bouvier family women – – mother, Edith Bouvier Beale, and her daughter, Little Edie, who lived in squalor in a decaying 25-room mansion in Easthampton, NY, this story will be familiar.  Aunt and cousin to former First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, the two society women grew up with Jackie, but took distinctly separate paths.  Their shocking story and the decaying of Grey Gardens was chronicled in New York Magazine in the early 1970’s while I was living in a nearby town and I remember it well.

Composer Scott Frankel and Lyricist Michael Korie have turned Doug Wright’s book into a riveting musical, bringing to life the tragic tale of a mother, who kept her daughter from leaving home and a debutante daughter, whose guilt-ridden dreams of fame kept her at her eccentric mother’s side.  It’s a tale with a dark side, told by two recluses whose artistic leanings lead them down a rocky road to despair.

Penelope Gallagher (Lee Bouvier), Kate Brown (Little Edie), Dick Reed (Major Bouvier), and Cassie Cope (Jaqueline Bouvier) - Photos by Matt Liptak

Penelope Gallagher (Lee Bouvier), Kate Brown (Little Edie), Dick Reed (Major Bouvier), and Cassie Cope (Jaqueline Bouvier) – Photos by Matt Liptak

There is a certain fascination with the privileged and glamorous who have lost their fortune and are forced to live in reduced circumstances.  And this tale does not disappoint. But it is also a fateful story of a mother’s jealousy of her daughter’s youthful beauty and eligible suitors, and her fear of living, and dying, alone.

Director Christopher Dykton has assembled a talented cast, taking us from 1941 with Little Edie played by Kate Collins Brown, and the elder Edith portrayed brilliantly by Nicky McDonnell who segues into the role of the daughter when Act 2 takes us to 1973 and Jennifer Strand becomes Big Edie.  Having seen the documentary, it’s clear the three actresses nailed the characters, and their New York upper class accents, perfectly.  Costume Designer Grant Kevin Lane completes the portrait by recreating the quirky clothing that Little Edie designed for herself.

Jennifer Strand as Big Edie - Photos by Matt Liptak

Jennifer Strand as Big Edie – Photos by Matt Liptak

In the forties, when Big Edie was married to “Major” Bouvier (Dick Reed), Grey Gardens was the setting for many lavish parties where she entertained her guests with popular songs of the day.  Accompanied by her companion, pianist George Gould Strong (Blakeman Brophy), Jackie, Little Edie and Jackie’s sister Lee Bouvier (Penelope Gallagher) sang along.  It was what the Major called “a madhouse, that bohemia”.   Abandoning his family on the night of Edie’s announcement of her marriage to Joseph Kennedy Jr. (Marshall Cesena) and destroying Edie’s chances at love and a hopeful escape from her mother’s clutches, he flees to Mexico for a divorce.  Meanwhile her mother had already been undermining her by regaling young Joe with tales of her daughter’s wild adventures at the local country club.  “I’m not your daughter.  I’m just your shadow,” Edie realizes.

When the women’s dire circumstances are revealed in Act 2, “The money tree came down with Dutch Elm disease,” Big Edie quips, Little Edie is now 56, her beauty fading fast.  When she realizes she is forever tethered to her mother and their 52 felines, it is then she turns a gimlet eye to her mother’s trap.  “Nobody except a cat gets out,” she laments.

Cast Photo of Grey Gardens - Photos by Matt Liptak

Cast Photo of Grey Gardens – Photos by Matt Liptak

Grey Gardens has sophisticated humor, witty Cole Porteresque lyrics, fine dramatic performances and all the schadenfreude of a prominent family’s personal debacle.  It’s tough to handle, but so is the truth.

Through February 6th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Comments are closed.