Grey Gardens – A Fascinating Story

Written on March 8th, 2016

This isn’t a review – in fact, the show is closed, so there is no use encouraging you to see this musical. But if you didn’t see it, I am so sorry you missed it!

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take it in on closing night – snow storms had prevented me from getting there earlier in the run, but I’m so glad I caught it.

Grey Gardens is a fascinating true story.  The Beales were a wealthy, socialite family in the 1930s, with a luxurious summer mansion in the Hamptons, called Grey Gardens.  In fact, the mother, Mrs. Beale (Big Edie) was a Bouvier: Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was her niece.  But when Mr. Beale ran off with his secretary for a Mexican divorce, and daughter Little Edie had her heart broken, the two women settled in the summer home.  It’s suggested that the mother sabotaged her daughter’s romances.  Little Edie’s hair fell out in what may have been a stress-related problem.  Neither had any income – Big Edie’s father, Mr. Bouvier, cut off any funds, and Mr. Beale’s trust was minimal.  The mother-daughter pair didn’t know anything about housekeeping or maintenance and the beautiful home fell into disrepair around them.  Soon, they were sharing their derelict mansion with 50 cats, raccoons, rats and fleas.Grey Gardens

It’s a fascinating love-hate relationship.  Both women fancied themselves as entertainers.  Big Edie was a singer who had once made a record, Little Edie was sure she would be a hit on Broadway.  They fight, but they also feel a responsibility to each other.

Their strange story first came to light in the 1970s when documentary film makers Albert and David Maysles stumbled upon them. The Maysles had set out to make a film about Jackie Onassis, and found her cousin living in squalour.  The tabloids ate up the story of the documentary and it made news around the world.

In 2009, Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore starred in the Grey Gardens movie, which remained very true to the documentary.   Her portrayal of Little Edie is probably Drew Barrymore’s best work.

The musical opened off-Broadway in 2006 and moved later to Broadway.  The first act is set in the 1940s.  Big Edie is planning a party to announce Little Edie’s engagement to Joe Kennedy.  Little Edie longs to be a singing and dancing star and Joe has his eye on the White House.  Act two is set 32 years later in 1973 at the decaying estate, when Little Edie is 56 and Big Edie is 79.

The Toronto theatre company, Acting Up Stage, brought this musical to Canada.  Lisa Horner was spellbinding as Big Edie in Act I, and then Little Edie in Act II.  Kira Guloien was the beautiful Little Edie in Act I, and Nicola Lipman was the elderly Big Edie in Act II.  It is such a fascinating tale and it was wonderful to see it brought to life.  Credit goes to Director Anne Hodges for assembling a stellar cast, supporting these women.  As Little Edie said, they were S-T-A-U-N-C-H.

Photo:  Lisa Horner as Little Edie and Nicola Lipman as Big Edie in Acting Up Stage Company’s Grey Gardens.  Photo by Racheal McCaig. 

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