Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Grey Gardens": ☼☼BANG

There are unsolved mysteries surrounding "Grey Gardens," having its Regional Theater Premiere through September 14 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. The advance promo calls the show "hilarious" and "heart breaking," but it is neither. What it is is a fascinating look at the lives of two women who lingered for decades on the edges of American aristocracy and privilege. Edith Bouvier (Big Edie) was the aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (young Jackie has a continuing role in the play.) Together with her daughter Edie Bouvier Beale (Little Edie), the two Bouvier women were true eccentrics, whose lives took them all the way from fortune to poverty and from the heights of social acceptance to the depths of despair. It's all true -- you can look it up.

But maybe don't go see the play. Scott Frankel's soporific music, especially in the first act, will put you to sleep in your seat and keep you there through a lengthy intermission. When you snap awake for Act Two, you will find it far more interesting than Act One with several rich and lively musical numbers, but how anyone can survive Act One is the first unsolved mystery.

Why the show was written as a musical is another mystery. It would make a fine drama.

Yes, we know. You saw Grey Gardens on Broadway and loved it. Many will enjoy this TheaterWorks production too, especially those who remember how Jackie O and her sister Lee Radziwill made the front page of all the New York tabloids when they had to keep their aunt's grand home from being condemned. San Franciscans with fatal attractions towards Judy Garland, Maria Callas and other doomed divas may also find this play hard to resist.

Certainly, the two leads, played by several different actresses to represent different periods of the Bouvier women's lives, are all excellent. Beth Glover and Dale Soules, as 1941 Big Edie and 1973 Big Edie, respectively, are terrific. Elisa Van Duyne gives lots of heart to 1941 Little Edie, and Glover, who switches to Little Edie in Act Two, is a fine comic, though where that New York accent came from, since it was nowhere to be heard from Little Edie in Act One, is another unsolved mystery.

It's always nice to hear a live orchestra. They did their best. Lyrics (by Michael Korie) were quite clever and the book (by Doug Wright) might have been more interesting if the entire first act weren't basically a setup for Act Two. That's a lot of setup.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Grey Gardens" Two Stars with a BANGLE. One star is for the set by J. B. Wilson which is, as always impressive; the other is for Cathleen Edwards' costumes. A Bangle of Praise must be granted for "Jerry Loves My Corn," a song of depth and pathos where the music and Dale Soules' vocal bring more than one tear to more than one eye.

"Grey Gardens"
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro St., Mountain View CA
Tue-Sun through September 14

No comments: