Grey Gardens is based on the eponymous 1975 documentary about Jackie O’s relatives, who then lived in a decrepit Long Island mansion of the same name. Doug Wright’s book for the 2006 musical does what the Maysles brothers’ co could not: We get to see firsthand the lofty roost from which the Beale/Bouviers fell to earth. In the first act, Wright transports viewers from the squalid cat preserve inhabited by “Little Edie” (Jessica Skerritt) and her mother "Big Edie" Beale (Patti Cohenour) back to the moment of no return, circa 1941, when the duo sealed their pact of mutual loathing and codependency. Little Edie is engaged to Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (Matt Owen), but Big Edie upstages the nuptials, which sends Little Edie away for decades. In Act 2, Little Edie returns (now played by Cohenour, with Suzy Hunt now playing her mother). By 1973, it's unclear if Little Edie is just eccentric beyond the telling, or if she's lost her mind entirely. Big Edie lives off canned soup and memories of getting everything she wanted until there was nothing left. The music—score by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie—is full of haunting contrasts between the frivolous then and the fallen now. It’s Sondheimesque in the best way, more intent on creating moods than hummable hits. Cohenour, Hunt, Skerritt, and Owen all shine in their roles, and the supporting cast is never less than stalwart. Director Kurt Beattie wrings what compassion he can for these two characters, but the Beales are merely porcelain figurines broken by their fall from Camelot. Identify with them and you’re bereft; decline and you’re asleep. KEVIN PHINNEY
While I was a bit distracted by the migration of people walking out of the theater during the second half, I had to agree with the spirit of their assessment of The Grey Garden. There are very good actors, very good pit musicians in this ACT production. But a saying made popular by a former Governor of Alaska, ‘you put lipstick on a pig, you still have a pig,” or something like that is very apropos. The first act was interesting with the introduction of several characters whose story line unfortunately were never developed. The general tone of the lobby during intermission was “interesting, wonder where they’re going with the story?” Returning for the second act the answer was clearly “a very dark place that prosaic could not rescue”. This was a long, long play. I did not time the second half but I suspect it was 45 minutes of depressing dialogue that never once came up for air. Shakespeare had a strategy of presenting‘comedies as tragedies and tragedies as comedies’. The second half took the compromise position, ‘tragedies are really, really tragic.’
This is polite Seattle, and the audience did applaud. The actors were gracious, but one could see that they were expecting a lukewarm reception. I look forward to seeing these actors in future presentations, but sometimes you just have to put the pig down.