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grey gardens

kirk and i saw the new musical version of the famous documentary “grey gardens” at playwrights horizons last night.

the perfect way to spend the evening after the end of the biggest snowstorm in new york history.

and i can’t get it out of my mind. i think the show is fantastic.

if you aren’t familiar with the story, here’s an extremely limited summary. jackie kennedy onassis’s aunt, the once-rich edith bouvier beale, lives in squalor with dozens of cats, wild raccoons, and her ex-deb daughter “little edie” in a dilapidated once-famous house in the hamptons. famous documentary filmmakers make 1975 movie of their life. cult classicism ensues.

now if that’s not subject matter for a classic broadway musical, i don’t know what is.

and doug wright, whose most recent work “i am my own wife” won the tony and the pulitzer prize for best play, did the libretto. lots of great people in the cast as well. christine ebersole plays the mother in the first act, which takes place in 1941 as her daughter little edie is about to become engaged to joe kennedy (the son, not the father), and plays the daughter in 1973 in the second act as they wander around the crumbling ruins of their fallen lives.

and mary louise wilson (“full gallop”) plays the mother in the second act. and if you’ve seen the movie, their performances are not to be believed. spot on.

the songs are completely wonderful, each one a gem and memorable. i can’t remember the last time i could distinctly remember at least parts of every song, but with these i can–that’s how good they are.

a lot of big themes are addressed, yet the play ends with things largely unresolved. which, if you’ve seen the movie, is exactly how it should end. the beales were monumentally static people, each living the present in their own distorted version of the past. and it’s fascinating to see this play out on stage, with such a talented cast and such strong material.

kirk has his doubts about the commerciality of the venture, and i can’t say i completely disagree. i wonder how much i would have liked the stage version if i hadn’t seen the movie, though i think ultimately that it stands alone just fine. and though the subject matter is bizarre and seemingly hard to sell to the midwestern tourists, those same tourists went in droves to see “kiss of the spider woman”, for instance–another odd musical based on an obscure movie. i think it stands a good chance of moving to broadway and having a successful run.

it was only the third preview, so i’m sure there will be some tightening. and there was one glaring anachronism in the lyrics–a reference to howard hughes’s spruce goose, the plane whose famous one flight happened years after the time setting. but this staging, as far as i’m concerned, is going to be golden.

a brilliant evening, all around. elaine stritch was in the audience, and we got to hear that famous foghorn voice bellow repeatedly, to no one in particular as we were exiting the theater, “where’s backstage? how do i get backstage?”

and we had a very very good pre-theater meal next door at chez josephine. kir to start, country pate for the appetizer. i had a great pot au feu, with nicely done veggies and a yummy bone full of marrow. perfect dish to eat when attending the theater while battling the remnants of a just-ended blizzard that dumped 26″+ of snow.

and the show went on. full house. gotta love new york.

and kirk had a risotto with fresh peas and tendrils, and lemon shrimp. absolutely wonderful dish. and frozen souffle and lemon tart for dessert. kirk successfully avoided the bread–he’s on week two of being gluten-free and feeling much much better for it.

an perfect evening all around, except that kirk fell in a snowbank going home and wrenched his back.

other than that, couldn’t have been better.

go see “grey gardens”–you won’t regret it.

update: since my original post, i’ve written quite a bit more about grey gardens, and i saw the broadway version, and compared the two versions.

2 Comments

  1. Stephen Knob

    I saw Grey Gardens last weekend in NYC and have not been able to stop thinking about how tremendous it was. Both Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson invoked the spirits of Big and Little Eadie Bouvier Beale. It was uncanny. Had I not seen the documentary, the musical and all of its power would have been just as impressive. Ebersole’s performance was a tour de force. She brought the audience to tears in the last act when, portraying middle aged Little Edie, she once again sacrifices her desires to live a self fulfilling life, and returns to the house when she hears her mother’s desparate voice.

    Anyone who sees this musical will be effected by the unfulfilled longing of the reclusive inhabitants of Grey Gardens. It is truly the best new musical of the 21st century.

    Posted on 23-Oct-06 at 8:42 pm | Permalink
  2. hi stephen,

    thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. i’m glad you enjoyed the show–i have tickets for the broadway version tomorrow night and i’ll report back on my thoughts. i saw it on the third preview at playwrights’ horizons, so i imagine there have been a few changes!

    it’s truly an amazing piece–my favorite theatrical experience last year–and i can hardly wait until tomorrow.

    Posted on 24-Oct-06 at 10:36 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. queerspace.com :: odds and ends on 09-Oct-06 at 1:41 pm

    […] » finally someone actually gets the importance and quality of the movie “shortbus”. the movie had a $21,000+ average per screen in its first weekend, so i have a feeling that the ride on the shortbus is just beginning. » the folks who run the website for grey gardens, the musical were kind enough to link to my original post about the play, when it ran at playwrights horizons. i’ve written a lot subsequently as well–this is a must-see if you are in the city. […]

  2. […] the old grey gardens? the best show i saw last year. […]

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