A2CT makes the most of flawed 'Grey Gardens'
What did you think of the play? Leave a comment at the end of this post.
Why? Because after seeing “Hannibal,” the sequel to the Oscar-winning “The Silence of the Lambs,” I realized that with “Silence,” when I was left to imagine what made Hannibal the way he is, and what he might do if he was free, the tension was almost unbearable; but watching that same character freely act on his impulses in “Hannibal” was just kind of dull.
Similarly, seeing the familiarly uber-eccentric, larger-than-life Little Edie and Big Edie Bouvier Beale - who lived in squalor (with lot of cats and raccoons) in a decaying mansion in East Hampton, and who were the real-life cousin and aunt of Jackie Kennedy Onassis - come to life on stage in “Gardens”’ act two re-creates the haunted air of mystery that drove the original 1975 documentary (the musical’s basis) to become an enormous cult hit.
Yet act one - wherein book writer Doug Wright, lyricist Michael Korie, and composer Scott Frankel imagine what the Beales were like long before they lost their fortune - feels like a prosaic, unremarkable origin story that can’t possibly live up to or satisfy the questions raised by the charismatic women forever documented in David and Albert Maysles' film.
Even so, director Edmond Reynolds does a pretty fine job with the show, as do his actors.
Most notable among them on opening night was Kathy Waugh, who took on the dual role of Big Edie in the first act, and Little Edie in the second. Though some of Waugh’s early numbers were winners (“Two Peas in a Pod” with Thalia Schramm; “Drift Away” with Sebastian Gerstner; and the act one closer “Will You”), her real time to shine was her Little Edie portion of the show, which kicked off with one of the show’s strongest numbers, “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.”
What’s tricky about the role concerns getting laughs without making Little Edie a joke, and Waugh succeeds so well that “Another Winter in a Summer Town” nearly breaks your heart in two, as does the long, devastating moment when Little Edie’s about to leave Grey Gardens, suitcase in-hand, and her mother (Laurie Atwood in another standout performance) calls out to her for help.
Choreographer Rachel Francisco effectively keys into each number’s tone, and music director Tyler Driskill leads an impressive orchestra. It must be said, however, that the show’s music is, at best, an uneven batch of songs. Did Norman Vincent Peale’s self help messages really merit a number? And one cringe-worthy lyric from “Jerry Likes My Corn” is, “And though he hardly says much/I understand his grunts/”Hey” means “hi”/”Yo” means “yes”/Believe me, he’s no dunce!”
Lighting designer Tiff Crutchfield, sound designer Bob Skon, props designers Brenda Casher and Martha Montoye, and costume designers Kevin Leistner and Michael A. Gravame (whose one misfire concerned Little Edie’s not-quite-right engagement party dress) helped define the atmosphere of the two and a half hour show, while Leo Babcock’s terrific set design was both evocative and versatile, allowing us to see the Grey Gardens house in its heyday as well as in its ruined, dilapidated state.
This is key, since the house is a character unto itself - a netherworld where Little Edie and Big Edie ultimately play out their own version of “Waiting for Godot.”
With lots more costume changes.
"Grey Gardens" continues through Sunday. Information: www.a2ct.org.