March 8, 2006

“Grey Gardens” blooms – Bouvier recluses revisited

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Grey Gardens" is in bloom again, 30
years after the documentary film about the reclusive, eccentric
relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis living in a dilapidated
mansion known by that name.

Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, the aunt and
cousin of the late first lady, come to life on stage in a
musical "Grey Gardens" opening on Tuesday for a month's run at
a small theater that could lead to Broadway.

A Hollywood picture also is in the works for 2007 to star
Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as the bickering, symbiotic
former socialites living in squalor among cats and raccoons in
a seaside 28-room home in the Hamptons once raided by Long
Island, New York, authorities for being a health hazard.

Even Albert Maysles, 79, who with his late brother David
shot the original documentary, is revisiting the subject. The
filmmaker has begun pouring over 60 hours of film not used in
the 1975 look at an unexpected side of high society to put
together a 90-minute DVD companion to the original work.

"'Grey Gardens' is a perfect example of entertainment that
engages you," Maysles told Reuters in an interview in his
studio. "You can't get those two women out of your mind."

The musical features an uncanny performance by Christine
Ebersole as the middle-aged "Little Edie," whose show-stopping
number after the intermission celebrates her madcap approach to
fashion complete with makeshift kimono and turban.

The fascination with "Big Edie," a domineering mother who
ruled the decaying roost from her twin bed, and "Little Edie,"
once the toast of debutante society who gave up acting
ambitions to tend to her mother, spawned a devoted audience for
the film and theme parties among hard-core fans.

Composer Scott Frankel, musical director for the 1992 Tony
Award-winning "Falsettos," was the driving force behind the
stage show, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug
Wright, who was honored for "I Am My Own Wife."

"It's a real favorite among my friends," Frankel said,
adding that seeing it again moved him to develop the musical.

He said the show tried to capture "the unremitting rage,
jealousies and competitiveness" between the cultured women and
their love for each other, which he called "universal
qualities, even though they were American royalty and Jackie's

The composer said Wright worried about bringing the story
to the stage. "Doug was very wary about taking on the project,
likening it to adapting the Bible, because it's so incredibly
iconic to so many people," Frankel said.

Wright tells the story of the women's tale with a first act
set in a resplendent Grey Gardens of 1941 with young Jackie and
her sister Lee Bouvier Radziwill underfoot and Edie preparing
to announce marriage plans that never materialized.

Act Two is set in the decaying Grey Gardens of 1973 as
captured in the documentary, with scenes and chunks of dialogue
taken directly from the film.

Maysles said he had thought the stage treatment of Edith
Bouvier Beale was too harsh and suggested it be toned down.

"One can fall into error in making a documentary film by
coaxing something along, by pushing, exercising some control in
the filming," Maysles said. "In a piece of fiction it is very
hard not to exercise the freedom that you have. It's all too
easy to go too far."