Studio Theatre's Grey Gardens

I love this town. This theatre season in DC is giving me the opportunity to see several shows that I missed when they were in New York, and one before it even gets there.

First we have Studio Theatre’s production of Grey Gardens, a new musical that was much praised during its off-Broadway run, engendering a short run on Broadway, and garnering leading lady Christine Ebersole a Tony Award.

With a book by Doug Wright, Music by Scott Frankel and Lyrics by Michael Korie, Grey Gardens sounded like just the kind of musical I would enjoy. Off-kilter, with unusual characters, and an untraditional story line.

Grey Gardens is a musical based on the documentary of the same name which chronicles the lives of Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale, cousins of Jackie O, who at one time lived in luxury, but by the 1970s were in reduced circumstances, in a dilapidated mansion that even the most lenient health inspector would find questionable.

Overall it is an impressive piece, though not mind-blowing. The musical doesn’t really seem to find its voice until the second act. The first act is written as a prologue to the documentary, intended to show us what this family was like before it all went downhill. Edie Beale (in this act played by the pleasing Jenna Sokolowski) is celebrating her engagement to Joseph Kennedy, Jr. (Matthew Stucky). Her mother, Edith Beale (Barbara Walsh in this act) finds herself unable to let her daughter go, and sabotages the relationship. The situations and characters in this half are predictable and conventional, so it never really grabs your attention. Sokolowski and Stucky give a charming performance in the number “Goin’ Places” where they discuss their plans for the future. But moments like these are then negated by moments like where Major Bouvier (Ryan Hilliard) encourages his young relatives to “Marry Well.” Ugh.

At the end of the act, Edie’s engagement to Joseph is off, and Edie leaves the house in search of a life free from her mother.

Act two jumps thirty years into the future. With only slight hints to how they got there, Edie (now played by Barbara Walsh) and Edith (now played by Barbara Broughton) are living together with minimal company and contact with the outside world. They are eccentric, and delightfully so. These two women are bonded to each other, a bond born out of deep frustration, but also deep love.

Barbara Walsh proves all those people wrong who thought this musical couldn’t exist without the talents of Christine Ebersole. Walsh turns in two complete and different characters. Barbara Broughton brings an excellent sense of comedy to Edith, and the way these two women play off each other is the highlight of the piece.

3 stars
Playing through January 11th


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