It's nice to see a happy review of one of the productions of the Grey Gardens musical, following its acclaimed Broadway run.
From Chicago Tribune, by Chris Jones, on 21 November 2008
Eccentric lives pull you into 'Grey Gardens' at Northlight
If you’re still living at home with Mom, a trip to “Grey Gardens” might just get you packing.
This deliciously quirky Broadway musical, now in its regional premiere at Northlight Theatre, is about the famously eccentric relatives of Jackie Kennedy, who, racked by divorce, scandal and personal eccentricities, traded the aristocratic life for one of deep squalor in their Long Island home.
The mother-and-daughter pair of Edie and “Little Edie” Beale were discovered by documentary filmmakers David and Albert Maysles in 1975 and were happy to perform their sad personal show for the camera. The resultant movie turned the ebullient and weirdly attired Little Edie, exquisitely played here by Hollis Resnik in BJ Jones’ production, into a kind of cult, camp heroine.
She became the forgotten black sheep of Camelot.
American eccentrics are often interesting—in part because they make us feel better about ourselves—but never more so then when they are only a couple of well-manicured steps away from the seat of political and social power. One wonders whom the Obama administration might throw out.
You can appreciate this odd-duck of a musical (book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie) without prior interest in the Beales, because its authors teased out universal meaning in their biographical story. That’s what John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim tried, but failed, to do with their similarly biographical musical “Road Show” (formerly “Bounce”) which I saw in New York last week. But back to Skokie.
In the first act of “Grey Gardens,” when we see the Beales still with a chance of making something of their lives, we are shown both the fleeting nature of happiness and how one single screw-up—in this case an implosion of a desperately unhealthy mother-daughter rivalry—can send a life careering toward destruction. We often don’t get a second chance. And in the second act of this show, you’re forced into confronting your own relationships with your parents (living or dead) and into an examination of the joys and pitfalls of interdependence.
Clearly, Resnik has been waiting for the role of Little Edie.
You can tell by the pitch-perfect rasp in the Chicago diva’s voice and the way her eyes dart hungrily inside her character’s trademark head scarf. But you see it most in Resnik’s devastating rendition of this musical’s climatic ballad, “Another Winter in a Summer Town.”
At Northlight’s Thursday opening, Resnik’s gripping articulation of middle-age regret and desperate fatigue at the constant, uncaring churn of the seasons seemed to shock an entire theater into silence.
This is, after all, Chicago in a suddenly frigid November. We might not live with dozens of cats and a crazy mother, and we might not have a failed engagement to Joseph Patrick Kennedy to regret, but we know what it’s like when a recessionary winter approaches, the president-elect has failed to invite us to Washington and we don’t know if we have the energy to stand being left behind in the cold.
“Another Winter,” and the effect of that number, is emblematic of what I liked so much about “Grey Gardens” when I first saw this musical on Broadway in 2006.
With top-drawer musical direction from Doug Peck, the Northlight production is a notable achievement and offers a Broadway-style experience without the Broadway prices. And although I think this production, which features a revolving, perhaps over-revolving, slightly miniaturized set from designer John Culbert, would have looked better in the larger theater at the North Shore Center for the Arts, some themes are enhanced by more intimate surroundings.
In particular, the link between Tempe Thomas, who plays Little Edie in the first act, and Resnik, who moves from mother to daughter in the second, is far more explicit than was the case in New York, starring Christine Ebersole. Thomas, a spunky performer with a fabulous voice, foreshadows her character’s later-in-life eccentricities but still makes you care about her one chance for love and escape.
In the second act, the redoubtably honest Ann Whitney takes over the role of elder Edith—and she is, for sure, a profoundly sad figure, sitting there and singing, among her cats.
Jones’ production should descend further into darkness. George Keating, who plays the pianist and hanger-on known as George Gould Strong, has glimpses of the self-loathing that’s part of the character but could go much deeper. And in the second act, the magnetic, soul-destroying power that the elder Edie exerts over the other needs articulation with much greater force.
There is an intermittent niceness to these Chicago Beales that you’ll struggle to see in the Long Island documentary, where they’re both well off down a road to a scary place from which it’s almost impossible ever to return.