Everybody suffers with Grey Gardens, now in production at Dallas’ WaterTower Theatre. Endlessly! The characters suffer; the actors suffer; the audience suffers. Most of all, the play suffers. This musical is a perfect example of a prevalent malady in today’s theatre—it exhibits promise, an intriguing plot, dynamic characters, and memorable music in Act I. Then Act II inflicts itself upon everyone after intermission, and all suffer. Endlessly.
I realize that Act II is somewhat loosely based on a thirty-year-old documentary examining the decline of the high-class Bouvier women who inhabited a creaky old mansion in disgusting disrepair in the 1970’s. But that‘s no justification for not connecting into the actions, characters or story arc so well created in Act I. I don’t feel the audience should have to conduct extensive filmography research prior to attending to have a solid clue about what the hell is going on. Why are these old gals stuck there, with scads of cats, refuse and “rabid” raccoons? The door isn’t locked. No reason given, just a chaotic jumble of disconnected musical numbers strung together aimlessly.
No song in Act II advances the play’s arc one iota, no matter how powerful its stand alone impact. “The Revolutionary Costume for Today”: is the main character singing this an aspiring protestor of some sort? What is she protesting? How does she relate to the person she was in Act I?
“Jerry likes My Corn”: why should we care? Who IS Jerry? A homeless person? A thief? An unwashed, underage gigolo? Who pays him to show up with used appliances and eat corn on the cob? Is he a Samaritan? A distant relative? No hint.
“Choose to be Happy”: a choral number, featuring the main female character Edie in different ‘revolutionary’ garb, the rest of the cast striding about in choir robes led by someone purporting to be Norman Vincent Peale. Honest to gosh. Why is he in this play? Don’t give me that “it’s in the documentary” line. Plays should stand alone, from start to finish. This one disintegrates into nonsense. The playbill quotes main character Edith Bouvier Beale, “It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean. It’s awfully difficult.”
I couldn’t agree more.
What a disappointment! Act I is a delight. Diana Sheehan, Pam Dougherty, Kimberly Whalen, and Gary Floyd interact and sing beautifully, create a fine ensemble of zany, fascinating characters. R. Bruce Elliott portrays the family patriarch with believable gruff pomposity. Secondary characters Kaylee King, Dani Altshuler, Kenne Sparks and Matt Moore flesh out their scenes and advance the story with wit and nuance. What follows does not.
Christopher Pickart has designed an impressive multi-level set that translates readily from crisp Hampton mansion to seedy firetrap and provides a range of settings for all matter of scenes. The lighting compliments the mood with some fine creepy projection work, and the costumes and wigs fit the period while allowing the actors to establish strong portrayals with abandon and energy. (An exception: young Jacqueline Bouvier’s equestrian attire is totally 2009, in no way reflects the type of riding habit a proper young horsewoman would have worn in 1941.)
Diana Sheehan’s singing, voiced with a tremolo vibrato popular in the 40’s yet clear as a bell, is exquisite. Go for her divine performance and delivery. Ignore the fact that Act II is grim. “You know what I mean?”
Grey Gardens, a musical in two acts by Doug Wright, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, directed by Terry Martin with musical direction by James McQuillen, runs at WaterTower Theatre at the Addison Theatre Centre through October 25. .
Tickets: 972.450.6232; http://www.watertowertheatre.org
I have no photo from this production.