Theatregoes, beware: This is not your typical stage musical. The first Broadway musical ever to be adapted from a documentary, both the 1975 film by Albert and David Maysles and the musical it inspired examine the mother/daughter, love/hate relationship between Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith "Little Edie," Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis's aunt and first cousin. This deeply moving, thought-provoking sociological study uses music to elevate the characters' emotional journeys.
For years "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" lived in squalor and total isolation, holing up in their 28-room East Hampton mansion amid hundreds of flea-infested cats and a couple of raccoons. The surrounding grey-shingled cottage, the palid dunes, the cold cement garden walls and the silvery sea mist suggest the name "grey gardens" on one level while simultaneously suggesting the way these women rotted away between the walls.
This musical departs from the documentary version so much that it almost seems like two different plays. In Act I playwright Doug Wright, composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie paint a fictional account of what that summer in 1941 might've been like on the day of Little Edie's engagement party to a young, handsome Joseph Kennedy. The gathering promised to be one of the biggest social events of the season and Little Edie's last hope of escaping her mother's clutches. True to form, Big Edie drops a few well placed comments to her daughter's intended, rendering Little Edie's future bleak. In Act II, we flash forward to 1973, where we witness the once beautiful mansion and its inhabitants in complete ruin.
More intimate than on Broadway, the Northlight design team condenses that production, allowing its essence to tumble out onto the stage by way of subtle lighting and a turntable set. Interiors and exteriors, past and present all flow seamlessly. Jacqueline Firkins' costumes don't just clothe the cast; they become extensions of their personalities.
Local theatre favorite Hollis Resnik absolutely inhabits the dual roles of Big Edie in Act I and then, mirroring her mother, of Little Edie in Act II. These are two very different personalities but the talented Ms. Resnik handles both with finesse. With just a single look from those tormented eyes she's able to tell an entire story, and she's amazing to watch and listen to, especially during "Another Winter in a Summer Town."
If you can accept that this musical is more of a dramatic story with music and is based upon the lives of a real family you'll be ready to experience a powerful evening of theatre you're not likely to forget for years to come. And if while sharing the Beale family's experiences you're somehow reminded a little of your own geneology, then the playwright and this exceptional cast of actors have truly done their job. For "Grey Gardens" isn't simply a curious look at the eccentric social elite; it's a mirror image of the American family.