Grey Gardens (@F_C_Productions) [theatre review]

I haven’t been able to keep up with the Vancouver theatre scene because I’ve dedicated most of my time to my academic life. I don’t regret it. It’s a trade-off I’ve had to make, and while I feel awful by missing so many amazing productions in this town, there’s very little I can do about it. But when I have the opportunity to enjoy a theatre show, it’s always nice to come back to old friends’ plays and in particular, to a theatre troupe I have admired for years, Fighting Chance Productions. I have had the privilege of seeing almost all of their plays, and I thoroughly enjoyed their latest one, Grey Gardens (at the Jericho Arts Centre until May 19th).

Bringing back two of my most favorite Vancouver actors, Cathy Wilmott (whom I saw most recently in Sweeney Todd) and Lucas Blaney (whom I also saw in The Wiz and Bare, two of my most favorite shows of recent), Ryan Mooney does it again with Grey Gardens: he manages to capture the audience even when the production is complex, nuanced and emotional. And Fighting Chance Productions’ troupe does this emotion-capturing seamlessly all the while bringing us two acts filled with conflicting emotions. I really hope they succeed in their fundraising efforts because the musical theatre that Fighting Chance Productions does deserves to come back to stages again, and again, and again. They are a young, talented company who are fighting with all their might to flourish (financially) and to bring to Vancouver stages some of the best theatre.

Grey Gardens is the musical based on the 1975 documentary about the lives of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, who were the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The documentary found them living as eccentric recluses in their shockingly decrepit mansion in the Hamptons. The Tony Award winning musical, which ran on Broadway from 2006-2007, follows the mother/daughter due from their days as glamorous aristocrats to their later days living in squalor. At it’s core, Grey Gardens is about the complicated mother/daughter relationship between “Big Edie” and “Little Edie”.

I found the first act (which is pretty much guessing how things went down, more of an imagination of what happened before 1973) a little bit complicated in that it’s not clear why the relationship between Big Edie and Little Edie was so complicated. While there is much love (and it shines throughout both acts and all three actresses at two different temporal scales), there is also a lot of conflict and contempt for one another. Fighting Chance Productions tells a story of a mother/daughter duo who are all the same fighting for their own place in the world and attempting to severe their bond, all the while making every effort to piece together their somewhat shattered and often times broken again relationship.

I love the fact that Fighting Chance Productions doesn’t only go the easy route, that they don’t only put together fun, mindless musical shows but they delve into deeper story lines, stories that need and deserve to be told and that enrich our thinking. I had a hard time processing Big Edie and Little Edie’s relationship as I am incredibly close to my own mother, and she has never been an obstacle for my success (much to the contrary, she was the first one to tell me to come to Canada for my graduate degree). But at the same time, I saw some of the reasons behind the complex relationship mother/daughter had. And yes, I did shed some tears, particularly in the second act (where there is a lot more assemble-singing, which I found refreshing – most of the first act I found it was centered around the story line development and thus much of the singing was taken by individual actors, though a couple of duets were lovely). Overall, I’d recommend Grey Gardens, in particular because it’s a good historical analysis told through the lenses of musical theatre. Complex relationships, drama, intrigue but at the core, a story of mother/daughter love, mother and daughter both incredibly unable to grow up on their own but always there for each other as though they were one.

Fighting Chance Productions’ Grey Gardens will run Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm at the Jericho Arts Centre from 5-19 May. (Please note, they have an added 3pm matinee on Sunday, 13 May and NO SHOW on Friday 4 May, as that they just had a special fundraising event that evening). Tickets are extremely affordable at sliding scale $15-$25 and are available now through the Jericho Arts Centre website.

More historical context on Grey Gardens taken from Wikipedia:

Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (1895–1977), known as “Big Edie”, and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (1917–2002), known as “Little Edie”, were the aunt and the first cousin, respectively, of former U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two women lived together at Grey Gardens for decades with limited funds in increasing squalor and isolation.

The house was designed in 1897 by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe and purchased in 1923 by “Big Edie” and her husband Phelan Beale. After Phelan left his wife, “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” lived there for decades more, over 50 years in total for each woman. The house was called Grey Gardens because of the color of the dunes, the cement garden walls, and the sea mist.

In the fall of 1971 and throughout 1972, their living conditions—their house was infested by fleas, inhabited by numerous cats and raccoons, deprived of running water, and filled with garbage and decay—were exposed as the result of an article in the National Enquirer and a cover story in New York Magazine[3] after a series of inspections (which the Beales called “raids”) by the Suffolk County Health Department. With the Beale women facing eviction and the razing of their home, in the summer of 1972 Jacqueline Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provided the necessary funds to stabilize and repair the dilapidated house so that it would meet village codes.

Disclosure: I attended Grey Gardens on media tickets, but as always I retain full editorial control on whatever I publish on my site. All companies know that all opinions expressed here are mine, and neither a review is expected, nor a favorable one is either.

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  3. The Milner Gardens at Qualicum Beach
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