Grey Gardens: Lavish, Detailed Musical for a Small Stage

photo credits go to Brigid Davis

Grey Gardens, book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie, Arlington Friends of Drama, 3/30/12-4/15/12, http://afdtheatre.org/greygardens.html.

Reviewed by Gillian Daniels

(Arlington, MA) With expert costuming and stage design, The Arlington Friends of the Drama succeed wildly in cramming the Broadway production of Grey Gardens onto its stage.

But Grey Gardens isn’t one musical as much as two separate ones sutured together.  The first half, featuring the Bouvier clan of Jackie O’s youth in its pre-World War II heyday, feels heavily inspired by Cole Porter.  The second, which takes place in 1973, gives us the squalor of the Grey Gardens property from the documentary of the reclusive “Big” and “Little” Edie Bouvier.

The elder Edith Bouvier Beale, played by Margaret McCarty in the first act, lives in the lap of luxury with her daughter and extended family.  A woman of leisure, her time is spent composing and singing with George Gould Strong (the foppish Michael Hogman) while competing with her daughter (Heather Darrow) for attention from the outside world.  Their relationship is complex and loving, but Young Edie’s suitors are often scared off, the show implies, by her mother.

Also according to the play, one such suitor is Joe Kennedy (Kevin Cirone) who, in real life, was being groomed for the White House like his brother John F. Kennedy before dying in the war.  His part in the play and introduction to young Jacqueline Bouvier (Jessica Dagg) and future first lady is interesting but feels contrived.  The recognizable face does, however, share a nice contrast with the life later lead at Grey Gardens where Cirone later plays a bumbling, teenage handyman.

A great deal of liberty has been taken with the actual downfall of the female Bouviers, here compressed into a single afternoon, but the effect is honest.  This first act is meant to give audiences a feel for what the aristocratic East Hampton clan represented.  In the song “Marry Well,” patriarch Major Bouvier (Dan Moore) joyfully tells Jackie, Little Edie, and Lee Bouvier that the girls must find rich husbands or else suffer spinsterhood and potential poverty.

Several decades later in the second act, this warning comes to fruition.  Little Edie, now played by Margaret McCarty, has never married and is taking care of her mother (Cheryl Carter Miller). Their squabbling has an air of humor to it much like the documentary to which their dialogue is closely hewn.

Impoverished, Big and Little Edie are free from a tradition that says women have little worth beyond the men they marry.  They’re used to a lifestyle that no longer exists, however, and so remain relics of the past.

With these two women in isolation from the rest of the world, the stage transforms from a gorgeous mansion to a marvelous hovel with equally impressive costuming.  It’s a sight that shouldn’t be missed.

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