By Bob Evans
Shockingly, the story of the idle rich in The Hamptons serves as a compelling story for a documentary in the mid-1975, and later a Broadway musical, chronicling the lives of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’ cousins and their fall from elite society to elusive hermits.
“Grey Gardens,” a 28-room mansion from the late 19th Century serves as the focal point for a story about a house and the members if the Bouvier family who owned it. First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis spent time there while growing up as this was her cousin Edith’s home that she shared with her husband and child, Little Edy.
The story opens with a planned party for the social elite to announce Little Edy’s marriage announcement to Joseph Kennedy. All the preparations in place, Edith divulges that Little Edie built quite the reputation as a swinging debutante after her swimsuit ripped open during a dive and she swam two laps of a public pool stark naked and then gallantly strolled past all the guests into the locker room to change. Some name-dropping of other famous and rich families (like the Gettys) caused the eldest Kennedy to question Edie’s character and her suitability with his political aspirations. With guests arriving, Little Edie devastated, Big Edie knew “the show must go on,” so she invite the guests in and sang, and sang, and sang, and sang. So opens the musical, “Gray Gardens.”
The show looks and feels like a standard musical with Act I mostly setting the scene and establishing the characters. The scene seems to be an elaborate setup for the story to unfold in Act II. From the very luxurious, rich, exclusive mansion to the dilapidated, run-down, atrocity it became parallels the lives of the two women who inhabited Grey Gardens. The compelling story begs the audience to do further research after experiencing the show. Based on a true riches to rags story, this piece displays the arrogance of the idle rich and their delusions of grandeur as they reside in squalid conditions.
Under the direction of Eric Magnus, “Grey Gardens” presents a unique musical drama that actually causes the audience to process and think about the show just presented. The complex casting allows different actors to portray the same character, but in different time periods. Sounds complicated, but when watching the show, it’s quite simple and not confusing. The show stars Cori Anne Weber as ( Edith Bouvier Beale and Little Edie) and Kay Noonan as Edith Bouvier Beale (Big Edie). Charlotte Gilman portrays Little Edie in the first half of Act I. The focus of the show falls on their shoulders. The women hold the story lines throughout. Male characters serve as set decoration, mostly to support the characterization of the women in the story. The men are portrayed by Kevin Hershberger, David Loethen, Hunter Hawkins, Mark McNeal, Jr., Sean Lestico. The Bouvier cousins, Jackie and Lee are portrayed by two charming younger thespians, Allyson Tinker and Annalisa Gray.
“Grey Gardens” features a beautiful set design and props. The lighting and sound design just add further texture to the production. Costumes make the characters appear locked in time and add a deeper dimension to the play. The technical aspects equal the solid acting and vocal performances of the lead women. When all combined, the effect is wonderful. The acting and technical aspects create a complete package.
Sound problems plagued Act I on the performance reviewed. Throughout the act, the sound malfunctioned and distracted the audience. A few missed lighting cues added to the distractions, but those are simple technical issues that can be corrected for all future shows.
“Grey Gardens” definitely entertains and shocks readers with it’s honesty in retelling a true account of what happened to the rich and famous. Even the most elite can fall victim to social pressure and lack of self-reliance. Their descent into a life of squalor and delusion shocks the audience and inspires further discussion and research.
The Barn continues its run of “Grey Gardens” through Oct. 1. Advance tickets may be purchased at The Barn’s website.
Tags: The Barn Players, “Grey Gardens”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment