Tea for Two: Grey Gardens the Musical Premieres at Circuit Playhouse

Posted by Holly Whitfield | April 6th 2011 1476 0

A few months ago, I watched Albert and David Maysles’ 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens” for the first time. It’s a cult classic for a reason: it’s two hours of an aging mother and daughter (with the same name) trying their best to drive each other crazy, complete with singing, dancing, costumes and thick, aristocratic New England accents.

When Circuit Playhouse announced that they were staging the regional premiere of the musical version of “Grey Gardens”, I had to go.

Grey Gardens at Circuit Playhouse

The first act of “Grey Gardens” the musical serves as backstory explaining how Edith Bouvier Beale (aka Big Edie) and her daughter Edie Bouvier Beale (aka Little Edie) became the recluses of the Maysles’ documentary. It was nice to have some context for the crazy.

The play opens in 1941, on the eve of 22 year-old Edie’s engagement to handsome, wealthy Joseph Kennedy. A party is being thrown in her honor at the Bouvier family’s East Hampton estate, Grey Gardens. Her mother, Edith, is complicating things, though. She insists on singing no fewer than eight songs at the party, and, while Edie is getting ready, spills intimate details of her daughter’s life to Joseph.

The second act of the musical picks up where the documentary starts, with Little Edie explaining why her turban, cape and swim suit is indeed the “revolutionary costume for the day”.

“Grey Gardens” packs a lot of disfunction into two hours. It’s clear to see that from the start that while Big Edie and Little Edie drive each other completely mad, one can’t do without the other. Looking back at my notes from the first act, about 15 minutes into the play, I found a place where I scrawled “clearly, these people are nuts.”

Bates Brooks does a fantastic job as the showy, meddling Big Edie. You want to hate her, but Brooks plays her so human that it’s impossible to dismiss her.

At times, the show is hard to watch without cringing. You’re watching two eccentric, strong-willed, theatrical codependents trying to exist in a squalid 28-room mansion. But, like the best reality TV, it’s impossible to look away.

“Grey Gardens” will be at Circuit Playhouse from now until April 17th, with shows Thursday – Sunday. For tickets, call (901) 726-4656, or order them online.


Author: Holly Whitfield

I write about what’s going on with Memphis music, food, arts, events, sports, people, and culture. Memphians love Elvis and barbeque with a passion that must be seen to be believed, but there is so much more to this place.

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