Beth Glover is Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale in the TheatreWorks production of Grey Gardens, the first since the original closed on Broadway. Photo by David Allen
For Beth Glover, Grey Gardens is al all-you-can-Edie experience.
The veteran actress plays Big Edie and in Grey Gardens, the musical based on the 1975 documentary of the same name. In Act 1, set in 1941, Glover is the mother, Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale. And in Act 2, set in 1973, she plays the daughter, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale.
It’s a juicy pair of roles for an actress, and Glover is immersing herself in the world of the Beales for the TheatreWorks production of Grey Gardens that begins performances this week in Mountain View.
The Mississippi-born Glover remembers the first time she saw the documentary by brothers Albert and David Maysles. “When I moved to New York in the ’80s, any gay man worth his salt had a library of videotapes that comprised Rosalind Russell’s every word or movement. Barbra Streisand is a given amid this huge video library of stuff no one has ever seen. One of those things was Grey Gardens, and when I saw it, I freaked out. I had never seen anything like it.”
The documentary tells the story of mother Beale, aunt to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and her daughter who lived in their crumbling, flea- and vermin-infested East Hamptons mansion, dubbed Grey Gardens, with dozens of cats, raccoons and piles and piles of garbage.
“The Beales’ story depressed me at first,” Glover says, “but then I realized that these women were living the lives they chose and really bucking social conventions. In the documentary you can see, in essence, they don’t care. They make a little noise about it, but they don’t change at all. They do not change their behavior. They clean up a little because they were about to be thrown out and Jackie comes to the rescue, but they go right back to living with all the cats.”
The musical, with music by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie and a book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife), opened off-Broadway in 2006 then transferred to Broadway later that year, where it one a Tony Award for Christine Ebersole, whose roles are being taken over by Glover at TheatreWorks in the first Grey Gardens production outside New York.
Turning a documentary into a musical is an unusual evolution, but Glover says it’s a “no brainer.”
“Big Edie and Little Edie loved music,” she says. “When Little Edie was told years ago that there was interest in creating a musical, she wrote, `My whole life was music and song. It made up for everything. Thrilled, thrilled, thrilled…With all I didn’t have, my life was joyous.'”
Her life was also kooky, as evidenced in the documentary by Little Edie’s, um, creative fashion choices – skirts on her head, scarves work as a skirt.
“What’s great about Edie is that even when she goes a little loopy, she’ll come right back and tell you what she’s done and what has happened,” Glover says. “She’s still self-aware. In the commentary on the documentary DVD, Albert says that Edie felt she had a break, a nervous break, a break from reality – whatever. It happened before she returned home, when she was in New York. That makes sense to me because her father was still alive and she was still trying to please him and still listening to her mother. Hers was not a personality that could handle that, and there was a seismic shift in her.”
Glover (above with Dale Soules as Big Edie) sites a scene in the documentary when Edie says to the camera, in effect, that she needs to “get it all together in my mind. I need an ordered life.”
And Glover points out that the only ordered thing in her life was her bed. “It’s always clean. There’s her order right there. Her mother’s bed is a total shithole, but Edie’s bed is immaculate. It’s not clean like we’d want a bed to be clean – it probably is full of fleas and redcoats. But there are no newspapers on it, no cat shit.”
More than just a documentary about the fall of American aristocrats, Grey Gardens, according to Glover, is universal because it wallows in “the road not taken.”
“Everybody’s got one of those,” Glover says. “You may say, `Thank God I didn’t take that road,’ but you still have that story back there.”
The other universal involves the mother-daughter relationship.
“When do you cut the apron strings?” Glover asks. “We all cut them at a different time. Edie kept trying. She didn’t know which way to go.”
At the end of the documentary, Edie says, “Uh, another winter. I hope mother doesn’t die. She’s a lot of fun.”
Glover points to that quote as one of Edie’s great moments of self-awareness, and it’s a moment that gets musicalized in the song “Another Winter in a Summer Town.”
In moments like that, Glover finds Edie “beautiful.”
“She’s so lovable,” Glover says. “There are moments when she sits and stews because her mother is taking all the attention or she’s focusing it (handyman) Jerry. We see Edie fight for attention constantly. She wants to be heard. We all understand that.”
Grey Gardens begins performances Wednesday, Aug. 20 and continues through Sept. 14 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are$26-$54. Call 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org for information.
Here’s a great clip of Little Edie in the documentary Grey Gardens: