In 1975 Albert and David Maysles filmed a documentary on the lives of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (“Big Edie”) and Edith Bouvier Beale (“Little Edie”). The Beales were Jaqueline Kennedy’s aunt and cousin. Set in Grey Gardens, the Bouvier’s mansion in East Hampton, New York, the musical follows the story of the demise of this mother and daughter from aristocratic socialites to indigent hermits living amidst a dilapidated house overrun by cats, raccoons and unhealthy squalor.
“Grey Gardens” opened at Playwrights Horizons in 2006 earning five Lucille Lortel nominations and 12 Drama Desk Nominations. Christine Ebersole won the Obie, the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League Awards (for her dual role as “Big Edie” and “Little Edie”). The show with revisions opened on Broadway in 2007 winning three Tony Awards.
The book by Doug Wright is marvelous as it probes the dysfunctional mother daughter relationship that leads the two women to be inexorably linked together in their love/hate dependency. The lyrics by Michael Korie are sophisticated and elegant. And the two most memorable songs by Scott Frankel are “Will You?” and “Around the World”. Though the father, Phelan Beale, is talked about; he never appears. Mostly absent in his wife and daughter’s lives, he seemed to be the real villain as he divorced the mother by telegram and never supported his daughter’s desired pursuits to model or act.
Act I takes place in 1941 when Edie was 24 and her mother was 47 and when they were both in their heyday. Both women sing in their soprano register which helps to denote the time period. Act II takes in 1973 when Edie is 56 and her mother is 79 and their voices occupy the alto spectrum.
11thHour Theatre Company has chosen to present this piece as a staged reading. Nine black music stands are assembled downstage with standing microphones in front of them. Upstage are a row of chairs where the actors sit when not performing. There is a lot of moving back and forth and to and fro to different music stands as scenes change. This would not be so burdensome for the actors if the microphones didn’t always seem to be in the way. And microphone stands always seemed to need adjusting to different actors’ heights. Other than these impediments, the reading moved swiftly.
Lindsie VanWinkle gives a tour de force performance as both Edith Bouvier Beale (the mother) and daughter “Little” Edie Beale. Ms. VanWinkle is spot-on in her hi-toned, upper crust accent, sounding exactly like the real Miss Beale. Her singing voice is simply luxurious and is well suited to the soprano songs which fill the first Act as well as to the alto, belt songs of the second. Larry Lees gives a touching performance as the slightly alcoholic accompanist, George Gould Strong. And when he gets to sing, “Drift Away”, in his fine tenor voice, it’s an added bonus. Depicting “Little” Edie Beale in the first act is Kristen Devine. Her sweet soprano hits most of the highest notes in this score. And her performance as the jilted fiancée because of her mother’s meddling is quite moving. One wonders if it was an actorial or directorial decision for her to not assume an accent. (Perhaps young “Little” Edie had not acquired such an affected way of speech yet.) Sam Krivda does a fine job portraying two distinctively different characters: a young Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Jerry, the Marble Faun.
The band, which consists of Piano, Violin and Drums may be a small orchestra – but they are mighty.
“Grey Gardens” Book by Doug Wright
Music by Scott Frankel, Lyrics by Michael Korie
Musical Direction by Amanda Morton
Directed by Steve Pacek
11thHour Theatre Company at
The Drake, 1512 Spruce Street, Philadelphia,PA 19102
Playing now through October 14, 2018
For tickets go to www.11thhourtheatrecompamy.org