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'Grey Gardens': A Haven for Eccentric Girls Who Had Everything

Erin P. Doherty
By Erin P. Doherty
Posted on Jan 19,2016
Filed Under Entertainment , Local Style,

Photo by Matt Liptak
Nicky McDonnell as Little Edie

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - Grey Gardens's status as a 1970s cult classic was fueled by public’s curiosity about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’s family. Her aunt, Edith Bouvier Beale (Jennifer Strand, Nicky McDonnell) and cousin, Edith Bouvier Beale (Nicky McDonnell, Kate Collins Brown) undergo power struggles in Act 1 as Jacqueline and her sister, Lee, look on. “Big Edie” needs the spotlight and to be tended to by her paid platonic companion and pianist George Gould Strong (Blakeman Brophy).

As their East Hampton estate declines, the reclusive cat ladies descend into squalor, seclusion, and eccentricity. Big Edie (Nicky McDonnell) effectively plays the mother in Act 1 (1941) and then the daughter in Act 2 (1973). “Their [mother-daughter] relationship was just brutal,” said an anonymous theatergoer. “It was excruciating to watch.” For example, at the second missed opportunity for one to break free, an audience member groaned audibly.

In, Act 1, Big Edie derails her debutante daughter Little Edie’s (Kate Collins Brown’s) bright future as Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr.’s (Marshall Cesena) wife. Meanwhile, Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier (Cassie Cope) and her sister, Lee (Penelope Gallagher), as Big Edie’s nieces, sing “Marry Well” and march with their grandfather, J.V. “Major” Bouvier (Dick Reed in Act 1. In Act 2, the trio sings again in Norman Vincent Peale’s choir.

The older Big Edie (Jennifer Strand) effectively evokes sympathy from teenager Jerry and gets people to listen by singing sweetly while diverting attention from Little Edie, as she has always done. She still wears an elegant dress under her housecoat and tries to make the best of things, even while sitting on a lawn chair where an elegant balcony once was.

According to theatergoer Liana Gravers, “The mother and daughter needed each other, although neither wanted to admit it. After criticizing Little Edie for being useless for not cooking or cleaning, the mother has to accept that she needs the daughter open a can of soup and asks the daughter to choose the one she prefers.”

One actor (Marshall Cesena) transforms so well from Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. in Act 1 to Jerry, an aimless teenager in Act 2 that he was not immediately recognizable. Act 2 duets include moving reprises of “Will You” (Strand and McDonnell), “Another Winter in a Summer Town,” and “The Girl Who Has Everything,” as ghosts return.

The set design (John Downing) and lighting (Tommy Scott) focus on the living room and front porch, which are Grey Garden’s inhabitants’ whole tiny world and strikingly resemble the actual house. More insight is available in Sophia Coppola’s interview of Lee Radziwill (

The costume designer (Grant Kevin Land) did his homework in replicating middle-aged Little Edie’s odd scarves and pins seen in old photographs and documentaries.

Don’t miss “Grey Gardens”:  It concludes on February 6 at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St. Tickets are available either by calling 703-683-0496 or visiting the Web site at

Photo by Matt Liptak
Nicky McDonnell as Little Edie with the cast of Grey Gardens
Photo by Matt Liptak
Marshall Cesena (Joseph Kennedy Jr) and Kate Brown (Little Edie)
Photo by Matt Liptak
Jennifer Strand as Big Edie
Photo by Matt Liptak
Nicky McDonnell as Little Edie

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