Review by Danny Gaisin
In 1975, Al & David Maysies created a documentary film about the two Edith Beales (Sr. & Jr.) after reading an National Enquirer© article. The Beales were of voyeuristic interest because they were aunt & cousin respectively of Lee Radziwill & Jacqueline Kennedy. The deterioration of the family estate was so severe that the local Sanitation Department attempted to close the place down. Jackie’s 2nd husband Aristotle, & Lee’s Prince Stanislaus, pooled some dough to bring the dilapidated wreak back to a minimum standard; plus a maintenance allowance for the two physically & mentally diminishing older women. An updated musical version was composed and it was this version that HAMMER ENTERTAINMENT has decided to stage. Cojones- you betcha!
Director (+ set designer; Sound & lighting Eng. etc.) JASON DICK has recruited three super talents to perform most of the on-stage action. As the older Edith, then her own daughter in Act II, Shari Vandermolen is seriously big time. Almost continually on stage and singing with the occasional bouts of dialogue, she just about carries the show. Her vocal talent and thespian abilities are pushed to the limit by the challenging demands of this particular play. As she emotes at one point – the lady is “staunch” . Her introductory persona is replaced by Janet McGhee for the post-interval and she’s no slouch either. Bearing a remarkable resemblance to today’s Hillary Clinton, McGhee manages to emulate the telegraphed imagery that Vandermolen presented from the opening curtain.
The Act I younger Edith – ‘Edie’ is portrayed by Robyn Cunningham. Ironically, we’re introduced to her as the fiancée of Joseph Kennedy who breaks off the engagement when he learns about her scandalous (for the era) social behavior; and the impending parental divorce (Kennedy infamous Catholicism). Cunningham misses the restraint endemic to any high class debutant-ish type and overdoes her impression of a giddy engaged girl. Vocally, she’s almost able to hold her own with Vandermolen. In an essential support role Tsoanelo Rantsho gives his two ‘Brooks’ delineations the proper body language and facial expressions, but his vocal projection is way too soft and treble-less. I have no idea of what his verbal responses were-even though I was seated in the 1st row!
The two Bouvier sisters – Raven Sim & Olivia Tharme are adorable and display both thespian & vocal talent. Nick Kulnies as Edith Sr’s buddy; & Kevin Coker who depicts both young Kennedy and as a handyman in Act II all bestow strong support to the leads.
GREY GARDENS’ story is as grey as the title. The acrimony between the two Edith’s; the revisionist and increasing bitterness develops as strongly as the plot-line of Filmdom’s iconic “Whatever happened to Baby Jane”. The director utilizes the vehicle of having the leads talk directly to the audience, thus making us acquaintances involved in conversation rather than just observers. We’re personally involved witnesses to the decline of our friends – the Beales. We only observe – not assist.
The set is not elaborate but suffices and the props are utilized effectively. The three-piece band, plus recorded musical background occasionally overpowers the on-stage vocalizing but that will probably be toned down for the rest of the run.
GREY GARDENS is at the ‘Citadel Theatre’ until Feb. 9th. Tickets -905-981-7345