Western Herald – REVIEW: The era-hopping “Grey Gardens” is a terrific display of theatre craft

REVIEW: The era-hopping “Grey Gardens” is a terrific display of theatre craft

John Campbell
A&E Reporter

Two women, a mother and a daughter, go from riches to rags in the musical “Grey Gardens,” playing at the Parish Theatre in association with the Civic Theatre in Downtown Kalamazoo.

“Grey Gardens” is the story of Edith Bouvier Beale, also known as “Big Edie,” and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, also known as “Little Edie,” the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, respectively. Their home, Grey Gardens in East Hampton, NY, is the site for the entire show, which is based on the 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens.”

The characters in “Grey Gardens” change from act one to act two. Act one, set in 1941 (except for a short prologue, set in 1973), is the day of Little Edie’s wedding to Joe Kennedy. Big Edie has plans to perform a concert at the wedding, much to the dismay of Little Edie, and this clash is just the start of the dysfunctional relationship between the mother and daughter pairing. Big Edie tells Joe some stories about Little Edie that make Joe reconsider, but Little Edie tells him to talk to her father when he shows up for the wedding. Shortly after, they realize that, not only is her her father not showing up for the wedding, but that he has also moved down to Mexico and is divorcing Big Edie.

Act two is set in 1973, Big Edie and Little Edie still living at Grey Gardens. The house has become littered with random junk and is full of cats, fleas and even a raccoon. The dysfunctional relationship still exists, but Big Edie is more reliant on Little Edie now, due to old age.

Overall, “Grey Gardens” is a fantastic musical. The songs range from downright quirky to absolutely heart-wrenching; the cast carries the melodies with stellar vocal performances, and the orchestra, led by music director Wendy Wheeler, keeps everything going.

The stage is partially mounted on a turntable, making it easy for the cast and crew to switch from the clean 1941 Grey Gardens to the decrepit 1973 version. Scenic designer David Kyhn and his crew should be applauded for their work. And costume, hair and makeup designer, Rachel Jahn, helps to emphasize the differences in the 1941 and 1973 versions of the characters perfectly.

On the whole, “Grey Gardens” is well worth the price of admission. While a couple of moments in act two dragged on a bit, it seemed as though it was the fault of the writer, Doug Wright, and not of director Art Nemitz or any of the other talented artists involved with the Civic Theatre’s production. The show gets you frustrated with Big Edie and Little Edie, but at the same time keeps you sympathetic with them, as well.

“Grey Gardens” runs Jan. 26, Feb. 1, and 2 at 8 p.m., and Jan. 27 and Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Civic box office, online at www.kazoocivic.org or by calling 269-343-1313.

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