Art & Artists
Art Basel 07
Art Basel 08
Art of Life
Basil Twist's Petrushka
Betty Tompkins
Diane Keaton Tribute
Edward Steichen
Gertrude Stein
Les Nubians
New Museum
Peek-A-Boo Revue
Pill Awards
Photogs to the Stars
Erotic Art Museum

A History of Violence

An Inconvenient Truth
Angels in America
Brokeback Mountain
Chris and Don
Little Children
Liza with a Z
Man on Wire
Notes on a Scandal
That Man: Peter Berlin
The History Boys
The Queen
The Savages
Woodstock Uncut
Morgan James
Joey Arias in Concert
Arias & Vine
Arias with a Twist
Brilliant Mistake
Candi Stanton
Diana Ross
Fight the People
Fish Circus
Fish Circus V2
Gavin Creel
Joe G's Winter Party
John Bucchino
Kevin Aviance
Lisa Shaw
Maximus 3000
Meow Meow
Paul Winter
Ute Lemper
A Chorus Line
ABT's Romeo & Juliet
August: Osage County
Avenue Q
Boeing Boeing
Coram Boy
Faith Healer
Getting Home
Grey Gardens
Heartbreak House
Joan Rivers
Journey's End
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Light in the Piazza
Marga Gomez
Mary Stuart
Movin’ Out
New York City Ballet
Rainy Days & Mondays
Rent 10
Some Men
Spelling Bee
Spring Awakening
Sunday in the Park
Sweeney Todd
The Little Dog Laughed
The Seagull
The Vertical Hour
Threepenny Opera
Times They Are A-Changin
Trailer Park
Wall to Wall Broadway
Photo Credit :: Grey Gardens
Arts & Entertainment
Grey Gardens at the Walter Kerr Theater
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
October 19, 2006 
Share |

Edie Beale lives! Not only does she live, she rules. Already a cult hero since the release of Albert and David Maysles’ 1974 documentary Grey Gardens, Edie Beale is about to blow up bigger than ever – and not only because Hollywood’s come knocking, promising a feature film based on the Maysles’ documentary. The mind reels: the catfights, the backstabbing, as Hollywood’s women of a certain age all jostle for position for a role that’s certain to do for their careers what Baby Jane did for Bette and Joan, and Mommie did for Faye. The opportunity of a lifetime – to be adored by film queens, to own the midnight screenings and revival houses for eternity. A prime seat in camp heaven, never to be usurped.

Ladies, take your seats. Currently, the role is owned by Christine Ebersole. Starring as both Big Edie and Little Edie in two acts separated by thirty years, Ebersole dominates the riveting musical adaptation of the Maysles’ brothers documentary, also titled – what else? – Grey Gardens, now playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Given the national – universal? – fixation on celebrity combined with our schadenfreude at the crash-and-burn antics of those whom we elevate to the klieg light pantheon, the story of Jackie O’s eccentric relatives living in East Hampton squalor is a natural fit for America’s increasingly-bizarre appetites.

Not unlike one of those Before and After Renovation photographs that pepper a shelter magazine, albeit in reverse order, the first act, taking place in 1943, reveals Grey Gardens, the East Hampton estate of the Beales, at its sumptuous peak (which so happens also to be the last hurrah of America’s class system whereby any and all who are not white, heterosexual, and male are deemed second-class citizens).

As the musical begins, young Edie Bouvier Beale is to be married to young Joseph Kennedy, thereby insuring ongoing status for both dynastic families. Ah, but such a future is not to be – and not only because, as any follower of the curse of the Kennedy clan knows, Joe Kennedy, Jr. is not long for the world. No, more importantly, at least for this production, is the fact that Little Edie’s sobriquet amongst the locals is “Body Beautiful” – and we can’t have that sort of sordid nonsense besmirching the Kennedy name, now can we? Oh, the rich layers of irony – and therein is the almost-macabre appeal of the first act of Grey Gardens: its “inside” view of a class of people from whom a handful of individual tragedies will play out upon the world’s stage.

Apart from Joe Kennedy, Jr., there’s also Jackie and Lee as young girls, frolicking about the gardens of the Beale estate – and to witness their infatuation with the two Edies is to comprehend how girls of privilege were groomed for their adult roles. Not for nothing were the lives of such American females circumscribed by lineage and money (not unlike the royals of Europe throughout the eighteenth century), and to defy the conventions of one’s class was to court stigma and ostracism – or as Little Edie makes painfully clear, institutionalization at the hands of her father.

To be a woman such as either of the two Edies, possessing of an artistic temperament – well, best to confine yourself to fashion sketches and jottings in your European journals as practiced by young Jackie and Lee. Best not to sing minstrel songs, least of all in front of the neighbors. And best not to have a reputation for being progressive, independent, forward thinking, or creative. Best to squash your personality and conform to the class which surrounds you – or else.

Else you end up like Big and Little Edie in Act Two of Grey Gardens. Thirty years have passed since Little Edie’s engagement party. The guests on the lawn have been replaced by fifty-two cats. Pate or cat food? Who’s to say what’s on the plate? In fact, there’s no one to entertain, except the neighbor boy who comes around to look after the two Edies.

Mother and daughter, all alone in that big house. You’ve got to have a sense of humor. And Ms. Ebersole as Little Edie in Act Two comes out and greets her audience: the neighbors, the locals, the curiosity-seekers intrigued by all those articles about Jackie O’s eccentric East Hampton relatives. And Little Edie’s going to show them a thing or two. Now wearing an outfit of her own design, she’s no longer living according to the dictates of her class, her family, her bloodlines, her past.

It’s freedom, of a sort. Hard earned, but there it is. No longer confined by paternal expectations, Little Edie lives her days according to the voices in her head. Her head, not someone else’s. Her father would’ve put her away, she says. Lobotomized her, maybe – just look what happened to that Rosemary Kennedy. That’s how it was for women then. And gay men. And blacks. Minorities without voices during a time when class ruled. You know your place; now, get in line – or else.

Or else— You listen to your octogenarian mother sing about the pleasures of corn cooked on a hot plate. Or else— You wait for the local stoner boy, your Marble Faun, to come over and listen to you sing. You think about him thinking about you. You think about the talent you squandered and how it is you ended up here, alone with “Mother, Darling.” You two were the ones who couldn’t strangle the creative urges inside – and this is what it got you: “Another Winter in a Summer Town.”

In the end, it’s the question we all face: Should I have done it differently? Could I have? The plague of aging: dashed hopes and broken dreams, optimism smashed upon the rocks of youth. And yet somehow we carry on, caring for each other, sharing soup. That’s what we are left with: the little pleasures of life.

Grey Gardens is one of the big ones.