Jackie Kennedy Onassis is one of the most iconic first ladies in history. She was born into a wealthy family and continued to live a life a luxury even after John F. Kennedy’s death. But the lives of her aunt and first cousin turned out very differently.
Friday night, the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre will premiere a musical about Edith Bovier Beale and Edie Beale called Grey Gardens. Director Art Nemitz explains a bit more about the play:
“They came from a very upscale family, a well-to-do family in East Hampton on Long Island at an estate there called Grey Gardens—a beautiful house and grounds. In Act One, we see them at that stage of their lives in 1941 and through the course of events over several years, we’re in Act Two in 1973. The women have lost their money. They’re still living in the same house but it’s ramshackled, rundown. And they’re recluses, they pretty much live by themselves with a whole lot of cats and raccoons infesting the house and things just generally falling apart.”
Rebecca Thiele: And it’s partially based on a documentary that they did about the women...
Art Nemitz: Yes, two brothers—the Maysles brothers—did a documentary called Grey Gardens and it was used extensively for the musical. In fact, Act Two much of the dialogue comes directly from the documentary.
The mess that was Grey Gardens caused quite a stir in the ‘70s. After a series of inspections, local officials told the Beale women to either clean up the place or get out. The first half of the musical takes place back when the Beales lives were much like any other member of high society. Sandra Butler Davis plays Edie Beale or ‘Little Edie’ in the first act. She describes the relationship between ‘Big Edie’ and her daughter.
“It’s kind of toxic I think. I think that they do love each other—they can’t live without each other. But Little Edie— especially younger, which is how I am portraying her in the first act when she’s younger—she is trying to make it big, she wants to be an actress. She wants all of the things that her mother didn’t get for herself, you know. She doesn’t want to be tied down. She wants a family, she wants to be married. But yet, she wants the stardom that Broadway could bring her or Hollywood—whoever wants to give it to her, she’s ready. So her and her mother go at it all the time. They’re always sabotaging each other in what they do and they don’t even realize it.”
The story of the Beales lives may be tragic, but Director Art Nemitz says the musical handles their situation in a playful way.
“The audience is not coming to see a grim tragedy. It’s a play that’s got a lot of life to it," he says. "A lot of fun and a lot of sadness.”
Tickets for this Friday's show at the Parish Theatre are sold out, go here to find the next available tickets.