BWW Reviews: GREY GARDENS Presented as Part of the REPaloud Series by Tennessee Repertory Theatre
Tennessee Repertory Theatre presented Grey Gardens over the weekend as part of their REPaloud (Reading Excellent Plays aloud) series. For different reasons, the REPaloud series touches on shows that Tennessee Repertory Theatre thinks they can't produce for logistical reasons, or that they are simply trying out. Their upcoming production of Red was first produced as part of the REPaloud series in 2011. The staged reading of Grey Gardens took place at Nashville Children's Theatre.
Grey Gardens tells the story of the reclusive aunt and cousin of Jaqueline Kennedy. In the 70s, Edith Bouvier Beale and her adult daughter, "Little" Edie Beale, were found to be living in their once grand home on Long Island. The home, known as Grey Gardens, was falling down around them, full of filth and overrun with cats.
As with most of the Kennedy family and those connected to them, America was intrigued and curious about the once wealthy family. A documentary, and later a movie, followed. The staged musical version of Grey Gardens has a creative and detailed book, by Doug Wright, and beautiful music that manages to weave its way into one's subconscious. The music and lyrics of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie have been stuck in my head for days. Tie these components together and we get a hard look at life in the Beale home in its glory days and again when it had fallen so far.
Grey Gardens takes place in two different times. The 40s and the 70s. We see the Beale women as young and older. We see Grey Gardens (the home) in all its wonderful glory, and as a dilapidated mess. The amazing thing about a staged reading is the ability of people that are dressed in everyday clothes, with no special props or sets, can still take you to a time and place far from where you are and convince you that they are someone completely different from who they appear to be.
There is no better example of this ability to transfer and transform than the roles of Edith Bouvier Beale and "Little" Edie Beale. In the 40s, Edith Bouvier Beale is played by the same actress as "Little" Edie Beale in the 70s. For Tennessee Repertory's reading, the role was played by Martha Wilkinson. Wilkinson has a remarkable way of transforming herself for the two roles. Even without costuming and make-up, Wilkinson was able to take on each role in such a different fashion that it was remarkable to watch. In Act 1 she plays the eccentric and wild Edith Bouvier Beale and in Act 2 she plays the eccentric and reclusive "Little" Edie Beale some thirty years later.
Young "Little" Edie was played by Jennifer Richmond. She gave such a youthful exuberance to the character. Richmond was able to take on Young "Little" Edie in such a way that you see the changes from youthful and hopeful and you see the change to disillusioned and heartbroken.
A young Jackie and Lee Bouvier are seen in the musical, as they are present for an engagement party for their cousin, "Little" Edie Beale. Played by Rosemary Fosse and Charlotte Staggs, Jackie and Lee are a sweet addition to the cast of the show. Knowing what they will grow up to be makes their presence as children that much more endearing.
There are far too many things that take place throughout the show to share them all, without giving away too much of the plot. They final result is that it was obvious that Edith and "Little" Edie were probably mentally insane. The question that crossed my mind as I left the theatre was this: was "Little" Edie crazy from the beginning, or did her mother's insanity somehow make "Little" Edie insane as well? There were signs that could give credit to either theory.
While this was the first musical produced for the REPaloud series, this was intriguing and wonderful enough that I hope to see the series take on some more musicals in the future. Keep your eye on Tennessee Repertory Theatre's website for future REPaloud plays (and hopefully musicals) as well as their regular season shows.