Getting Trapped In The Magic Of Grey Gardens

If you're a woman or a theater fan or introspective or a history buff or gay or a Kennedy buff or have a pulse -- not to mention, all of the above -- get yourself to Stages Repertory Theatre to see Grey Gardens!!


I'm pretty out of touch with everything except work these days, so had little clue what the celebrated play/movie/documentary was about -- some old ladies with cats, I heard -- yet agreed to go, if only to get a peek at my not-so-distant future. Took a friend from NYC who goes to Broadway plays as often as a middle-aged woman visits the powder room. (Translation: mucho, mi amigos y amigas; mucho.)


We plopped down in our seats in the cozy venue off Allen Parkway. It beats most Broadway houses, in my book, and forget about Jones Hall unless you wear high-powered binoculars as bling. Then I spotted something on the program that nearly propelled me from said seat like a jujube unlodged by a Heimlich maneuver:  There are songs in it!! More than 20!!!


"I've gotta get out of here," I barked to my friend in a panic, and rose to flee. Musicals are like cod-liver oil to me. Every time my well-meaning husband makes me sit through Sweeney Todd, I have to hurl chunks -- literally. The rushed, tangled trip climbing over others seated in my row gets old.

"Of course it has songs!!" she hissed, shaming me into sitting back down. I thought I'd suck it up if only to: 1) Look like less of a Houston hick and 2) Brag to my husband -- who grew up 20 minutes from Broadway -- about what I had survived.

But it only took about four-and-a-half minutes to fall in love with the staging, the actors, the insight, the dialogue and yes, the songs. The book by Doug Wright is witty and moving -- who knew Dallas could spawn such genius? The poignancy of "Another Winter in a Summer Town" still moves me to tears. (The original Broadway cast recording, by the way, has become hard to find in local Houston stores.)

As sophisticated as my Manhattanite friend is about the theater, she summed up simply the story of the mother and daughter gripping tightly to memories, shoulda/coulda/wouldas and a decrepit mansion: "It's hilarious -- and sad."  Not unlike life itself.

HBO recently released a movie by the same name, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. We sailed home from the Stages production -- it was stellar on opening night; you can imagine how fine-tuned it is a week into the run -- and immediately foraged On Demand 'til we found the movie.

Both productions complemented each other -- both depict subtle, yet wrenching, moments of family betrayal. But don't just settle for watching the movie while such talent is nearby. The casting in the Stages' production is perfect, and the staging remarkable in its eloquence, featuring haunting visits by figures from the past. Nancy Johnston is a powerhouse  as "Little" Edie Beal. "Big" Edith is perfectly, dottily portrayed by Susan O. Koozin. Both women surpass HBO's Hollywood divas.

So I recommend doing just what we did that night, in that order. (Just don't singe your homemade popcorn, as we did in our haste to devour more on the black hole of the Hamptons.)

Since then, I've ordered from Netflix the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens by the infamous Maysles brothers, Albert and the late David, who gave us the harrowing Gimme Shelter (the doc on the Rolling Stones' Altamont melee). I'm hoping to watch that before topping things off with dessert in the shape of another trip to Stages before the run closes June 14.

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Bobette Riner