(l-r) Rachel York and Betty Buckley
By Darlene Donloe
In the 1940s, Grey Gardens was the place to be. It was special. That was a time when it played host to some fabulous, upscale parties and was occupied by the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
By the time the 70s rolled around, the East Hampton, New York estate took a hard hit when Onassis’ relatives fell on bad times. The mother suffered a series of family and financial problems, which left her, and ultimately them, impoverished. Once the envy of high society, her aunt Edith Ewing Beale and cousin Edith Bouvier Beale became eccentric and reclusive at a home that was uninhabitable and literally began to crumble to the ground.
Their story is told in Grey Gardens, the musical now playing at the Ahmanson through August 14.
Edith and Edie, who have big, lively personalities, are played by Tony Award-winner Betty Buckley (Cats) and Broadway veteran Rachel York (City of Angels, Les Miserables), respectively.
Based on the classic documentary, this moving musical about fallen royalty, takes place entirely at Grey Gardens. We see the mother and daughter when they’re at their best, and we see them at the worst.
The musical explores the daily lives of the two aging women, affectionately known as Big Edie and Little Edie who are the sole inhabitants of the Long Island estate.
We learn much about the duo including their wants, desires and habits. Both women live in the past. Little Edie still sees herself as an undiscovered singer/dancer. Big Edie, who, like her daughter, rarely leaves the house, thinks Little Edie is dillusional.
This is equally a love story and a tragedy. To watch someone decline not only in their surroundings, but also mentally, is not an easy task.
Both Buckley and York are brilliant. Their heartfelt performances are palpable and engaging. Buckley is sufficiently wacky just enough to be sympathetic. York is equally zany. Together they possess a bond this is unbreakable.
Grey Gardens, directed by Michael Wilson, stars Rachel York, Betty Buckley, Josh Young, Davon Williams, Sarah Hunt, Katie Silverman, Peyton Ella, Olivia Curry, Rogelio Douglas Jr., Steven Good, Melina Kalomas, Michelle London and Rebecca Spencer.
Grey Gardens, book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie.
On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Grey Gardens gets an E (excellent).
Grey Gardens, through Aug. 14, Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave. at Temple St. Downtown L.A., CA 90012; 213 972-4400, CenterTheatreGroup.org