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'Grey Gardens' Opens Tonight

The Arlington Friends of the Drama production runs through Sunday, April 15, at the AFD Theatre on Academy Street. Showtimes and ticket information are at the bottom of this article.

Editor’s Note: The following is a press release from Arlington Friends of the Drama (AFD Theatre):

Arlington Friends of the Drama (AFD Theatre) presents the greater Boston community theater premier of Grey Gardens.” Edith Bouvier and Edie Beale, the most unique, eccentric relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, are brought to life in the riches-to-rags story of just how far American royalty can fall.

A documentary made in 1976 examined the women's remarkable personalities, simultaneously eccentric and electric. The women fascinated America and the documentary developed something of a cult following, who admired the women’s staunch insistence on being themselves in the face of adversity and non-acceptance.  In addition, “Little Edie” had a unique and eccentric fashion sense, creating head dressings and costumes out of stray bits of faded clothing, developing her own style inimitable style that became irresistible to imitate in “Grey Garden” parties.

The musical was written in 2006, with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, and won three Tony Awards for the Broadway production.

“Grey Gardens” was easily adapted as a musical, because the Beales loved to sing and dance, and were at heart, exhibitionists. The first act spotlights the social heyday of the Beales’ East Hampton mansion. Act Two shows the mother and daughter thirty years later after their trust fund has run dry, somehow able to persevere in spite of the dilapidation of their beloved home, “Grey Gardens.”

For a community theater like Arlington Friends of the Drama, the production has many challenges. One of the important aspects of the production, says director Nancy Curran Willis, is to recognize that the house is a character in the show just as much the actors. Capturing the elegance of the original home as well as its decline is important in setting the tone of the play and telling the story. AFD Theatre has a small stage with little wing space. The solution involved creating a set which pivots precisely to allow the transition from elegance to squalor.

Equally important are the larger-than-life personalities, who many people already know of through the documentary.

“These women are fascinating, and I am lucky to have cast members who are brilliant. They bring so much to the table in capturing the essence of these characters,” said Willis, something she wasn’t sure would happen when she took on the job of directing the play. But the community theater community holds some excellent talent, and she feels the leads are able to pull it off.

For Laura Espy, assistant director and choreographer, one of the challenges has been designing dance and movement in a play about real people. It is important to capture the unique physicality of each real character, and yet allow the actresses room to make their own interpretations. Another challenge has been the two time periods. The dancing in Act One needs to evoke the classic MGM movements of the 1940s. There is an entirely different feel to the 1970s dancing of Act Two.

Even costuming the show has been a challenge. “Little Edie” had a knack for wearing outlandish and original outfits. Because she is well known through the documentary, the iconic looks need to be recreated for the show. In addition, some costumes worn in the first act need to appear in the second act looking thirty years older. Working on a low budget with all volunteers, costuming sometimes requires a larger than average commitment.

The production team feels they are up to the challenges. Matt Stern is the musical director, Judy Forgione is stage manager. Carol Antos and Joe Stallone are on costumes; Eric Jacobsen is designing lights with help from Bruce Pennypacker on projections. Bob Pascucci is designing sound. The team of Charlotte Kelly, Evelyn Corsini Alcorn and Judy Weinberg are coordinating props. The set designer is Brian Harris, with Ryan Kowalczyl as first-time set technician. Susan Harrington is the production manager. The cast includes Margaret McCarty as Edith/Little Edie, Cheryl Carter-Miller as Edith, Heather Darrow as Young Edie, Michael Hogman as George Gould Strong, Kevin Cirone as Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr./Jerry , Dan Moore as J.V. Major Bouvier/Norman Vincent Peale, Chauncey Moore as Brooks Sr./Jr., Jessica Dagg and Sirena Abalian as Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier.

Performances are March 30, 31, and April 6, 7, 13 & 14 at 8 p.m., April 1 and 15 at 4 p.m. and Sunday April 8 at 7p.m. There is a talk-back after the April 1 performance. Tickets are $25. AFD is wheelchair accessible and has assistive listening devices available, and is accessible by public transportation via the 77 Bus from Harvard Square. AFD is located at 22 Academy Street, in Arlington.

Box Office: www.afdtheatre.org or 781-646-5922.

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