Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

In the Gardens

December 28, 2006

Christine Ebersole as "Little" Edie Beale
Photo: Grey Gardens 2006
Stop number two this week was at The Walter Kerr Theater to see a performance of the by now much lauded Grey Gardens starring Christine Ebersole and Mary Louis Wilson. The show is very good and like most very good shows it results in a break from all the doom-and-gloom talk about Broadway long enough to be supplanted by all the “rebirth of the American Musical” talk. I’m not sure either of these lines of argument are worthwhile but it sure looks nice on banners and billboards outside of the theater, doesn’t it?

The heart and soul of Gardens are the performance of Ms. Ebersole and Ms. Wilson. They are big stars in big roles and have been honored for these portrayals in the off-Broadway run already. I could laud more words of praise on Ms. Ebersole, but there are unlikely many superlatives left that haven't already been used to describe her great performance.

The big question in my mind is this. Could the show survive without her and/or Ms. Wilson? There are certainly some great songs and lyrics including the near show-stopping “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” at the start of Act II. But there are a number of weak numbers as well, particularly those not delivered by one of the two leads. Luckily there aren’t many of these, but it does raise the question of how much of the success of this piece rests soley on Ms. Ebersole's shoulders. I personally don’t believe there is much staying power in Grey Gardens overall and am not sure what the draw would be completely without its current stars. There is virtually no plot. Act I is essentially a long background story for the setting of Act II – and Act II, while stronger and much more entertaining – is more about a set of relationships than any real arc of events or character development and change.

Still, I would agree that there is some great stuff here. Some wonderful dark moments matched by equally hilarious ones. Now is the time to see it though. It may never be this good again.

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