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IMNSHO: In My Not-So-Humble Opinion
Wednesday, 22 February 2006
The Glory that is "Grey Gardens"
I guess dancing to Madonna's "Hung Up" (see the February 7th entry below) hasn't tired out the spirit of Little Edie Beale.

I saw the new Grey Gardens musical at Playwrights Horizons in New York on Saturday and I have to say that I thought it was brilliant! I loved every minute of this laughter-through-the-tears, based-on-a-true-story tale of an eccentric mother and daughter, both named Edith Bouvier Beale, who happened to be the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

Of course, it helps to have seen the 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles, which had been an underground cult classic before the days of VHS and DVD, but the music is so good, the characters are so vivid, and the story is so touching that I think a person could go into the theater without knowing anything about the two Edies and still thoroughly enjoy the production.

The costumes and sets were lovely, but it was the haunting, amusing, and touching performances of the two stars, Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, that really made this a must-see theatrical event.

I know that much of the first act is almost complete fiction, but I don't have a problem with writers taking artistic license as long as people know what is fact and what isn't. The premise was interesting and made for an intriguing explanation for what the Edies' relationship turned out to be later in life. I don't want to give too much of the play's first act away, but in the documentary we got the sense that Little Edie believed that her mother was responsible for interfering in her relationships and chasing men out of her life. At the end of the first act, which takes place right before the party to celebrate Little Edie's fictional engagement to Joseph Kennedy Jr., a conversation transpires between Big Edie and Joseph Kennedy Jr. (whom I believe is used as a literary device representing a composite of Edie's youthful romances, whether rumored, imagined, or actual) that made me wonder if she makes her revelation to him innocently or if she intended what she said to have the effect on him that it did. Was she a proud mother complimenting her daughter's pluck and spunk, or was she a manipulative middle-aged woman who was afraid of growing old alone and who wanted to ensure that her daughter wouldn't get married and leave her?

Later in life, the real Little Edie claimed to have gone out on a few dates with Joe Kennedy Jr., but there was never an engagement. The scene, however, sums up what many viewers of the documentary have thought may or may not have happened between Big Edie and some of Little Edie's other suitors.

To see pictures from the musical, go here and here.

All of a sudden the Edies are in the spotlight again, but this time the circumstances are better than they were in the mid-1970's when the town of East Hampton, New York, tried to have the Beales' ramshackle estate condemned and their famous relative Jackie O. was called upon to help out. These two women who adored music and dancing would be tickled to know that they are now the subject of a stage musical (Little Edie was actually made aware of its early development before her death in 2002), there's an in-depth biography being written about them, and a new biopic is about to go before movie camera lenses this summer. Here's more on this latest piece of news from Variety...
Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange will star in "Grey Gardens," a fact-based drama about two eccentric relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy who made headlines when the health department threatened to raid their flea- and raccoon-infested East Hampton, N.Y., estate.

Commercials director Michael Sucsy wrote the script and will make his feature directing debut on the project this summer. He'll produce with Lucy Barzun and Rachael Horovitz.

Barrymore will play Little Edie, and Lange will play her mother, Big Edie Bouvier Beale, the socialite cousin and aunt, respectively, of Kennedy Onassis. The Edies made headlines around the world when Jackie O herself materialized to rescue her family from public disgrace.

The Edies were then the subjects of "Grey Gardens," a 1976 docu by David and Albert Maysles, whose rights will be part of the movie package.

Docu, which showed the women living in squalor, made a cult figure of Little Edie. She got a nightclub singing job as a result. Years after their deaths, the Edies have Web sites devoted to them as well as an Off Broadway play.

Sucsy, who summered in nearby Quogue, grew up with the legend of the women and hunted down rights to personal correspondence and journals that chronicle Little Edie's struggle to break free of her mother after they retreated from Park Avenue for the Hamptons.

The film will cover 40 years. Kennedy Onassis will be a character in the film, as will Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, who bought the crumbling mansion from Little Edie after her mother's death.

"You couldn't capture the eccentric nature of those women better than the documentary did, but it left me with so many questions of what led them there," Sucsy said.

CAA and Cinetic Media are packaging the project.

Lange, last seen in the Jim Jarmusch-directed "Broken Flowers," just made "Don't Come Knocking" and "Neverwas." Barrymore will next be seen in the Curtis Hanson -directed "Lucky You" and will star opposite Hugh Grant in the Marc Lawrence-directed "Music and Lyrics By."
And this is from Playbill.com:
Hollywood Will Till the Ground of the Legendary "Grey Gardens" Ladies
By Kenneth Jones
22 Feb 2006

The story of Jackie Kennedy Onassis' broken aunt and cousin, Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale, continues to be fertile soil.

In the 1970s the mother and daughter, former society ladies, were living in a cat-infested, filthy, crumbling estate called Grey Gardens in East Hampton on Long Island. A 1975 documentary film called "Grey Gardens" was a cult hit that inspired the current musical, Grey Gardens, now at Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan.

Variety reported that Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange will star in a non-musical feature film called "Grey Gardens." Michael Sucsy wrote the screenplay and will make his feature directing debut with it. Production begins this summer.

Barrymore ("The Wedding Singer") will play "Little Edie," and Lange (Broadway's The Glass Menagerie) will play her mother, "Big Edie" Bouvier Beale.

The documentary by David and Albert Maysles left Sucsy with questions, he told Variety. He sought personal correspondence and journals that tell more of Little Edie's history with her mother.

According to the trade paper, the movie will cover 40 years and characters will include Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, editor Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, who bought the raccoon-infested mansion after the elder Beale's death.

The new musical at Playwrights Horizons covers about 30 years, from a life-changing day in 1941 (when Little Edie's relationship with young Joe Kennedy fell apart, and Edith's marriage to Mr. Beale hit the rocks) to 1973 (when mother and daughter are cooking food over a hotplate at their bedside and listening to raccoons nibble at the frame of the house).

The new feature picture is not related to the musical, save for the subject matter. Both projects will include some imagining of events.

"The events of the play," reads a Playbill note for the musical, "are based on both fact and fiction."

The documentary that inspired both projects is a housebound experience set in the shambles itself. The film remains a creepy document of mental, physical and social decline.

The libretto for the musical is by Pulitzer Prize-winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife), who borrows lines from the documentary to pepper an imagined Act One that has the whiff of Cole Porter's "High Society" to it (the score is by composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie). Their Act Two is set in the crumbling home and more closely follows the documentary (including the more memorable lines from the ladies), spiked with songs, such as Frankel and Korie's haunting "Another Winter in a Summer Town."

Christine Ebersole plays matron Edith in 1941 and her daughter, Edie, in 1973. Mary Louise Wilson is the Medusa-like visage of Edith in old age in 1973. Sarah Gettelfinger plays the vibrant daughter Edie in 1941. Sarah Hyland plays young Jackie Bouvier. John McMartin is J.V. "Major" Bouvier, Edith's father.

Previews continue at Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage Theater on West 42nd Street. Opening is March 7. Previews began Feb. 10.

*

The cult movie, now on DVD with added special features, is a portrait of physical and mental decay that has fascinated viewers (and inspired some artists and designers) for 30 years.

According to Playwright Horizons, "Grey Gardens concerns the deliciously eccentric aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who were once among the brightest names in the pre-Camelot social register, and are now East Hampton's most notorious recluses, living in a dilapidated 28-room mansion. Facing an uncertain future, Edith Bouvier Beale and her adult daughter, 'Little' Edie, are forced to revisit their storied past and come to terms with it ? for better, and for worse."

Librettist Wright is the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of I Am My Own Wife, which also won the Tony Award for Best Play. He also penned the play Quills and the screenplay for its film version. Composer Frankel was musical director for Broadway's Falsettos and Putting It Together and lyricist Michael Korie co-wrote the opera Harvey Milk and lyrics for the Broadway-aimed Lucy Simon musical Zhivago.

Performances continue to March 26, but if critics and audiences take a shine to the show, expect it to have a commercial future.

Ebersole is a Tony Award winner for the revival of 42nd Street; Wilson was a Tony nominee for Cabaret and appeared in Off-Broadway's Full Gallop; Gettelfinger created the role of Jolene, the Oklahoma heiress in Broadway's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and appeared in Nine.

The production features scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by five-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long, lighting design by Tony Award winner Peter Kaczorowski, sound design by Brian Ronan and projections by Wendall K. Harrington. Orchestrations are by Tony Award winner Bruce Coughlin and music director will be Lawrence Yurman.

The performance schedule will be Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM. Tickets are $65.

Grey Gardens is presented by special arrangement with Nathan Riley.

For ticket information, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or visit www.playwrighthorizons.org.


I've been a Drew Barrymore fan for most of her life (she comes from an acting dynasty, for God's sake!), but I'm skeptical about her ability to play Little Edie. However, I'm open-minded enough to give her a chance. In that vein, I never understood the outcry of criticism that I had seen on the internet after Renee Zellweger announced her desire to play Little Edie. I can understand that she might not be everyone's cup of tea, but she portrays vulnerability (Nurse Betty), quirkiness (Cold Mountain), and being on the edge of her wits (Chicago) very well. I'm not saying that she would have been my first choice to play Little Edie either, but as an actress I feel that she's completely capable and I think she definitely deserved the Oscar that she won for Cold Mountain. Reportedly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Nicole Kidman (who hoped that Meryl Streep would co-star as Big Edie) had also expressed an interest in the role. I think that Paltrow and Kidman are fine enough actresses whom I could easily have imagined as Little Edie.

But I have hopes that this movie can and will be done right. I'm just glad that the stage musical, the upcoming book, and this movie will be giving the Edies the kind of attention they deserve.

F.Y.I.  Writer/Director Michael Sucsy and the Beales' handyman, Jerry "The Marble Faun" Torre, are among the members of the Grey Gardens Yahoo! Group that I belong to.

Posted by tonylagarto at 12:43 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006 3:21 PM EST
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