Fifty-two. It was the number of felines found in Grey Gardens, the decrepit East Hampton home of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Little Edie—aunt and cousin, respectively, of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis—when town officials started poking around in the 1970s. Their 28-room mansion had literally gone to the cats; and the once-glamorous duo were now eccentrics living in squalor, amid piles of trash and racoon skulls. Big and Little Edie only managed to escape eviction thanks to a quick infusion of cash from Jackie O.
This story of squandered wealth and Norma Desmond delusions has been adapted as a hit 1975 documentary, an HBO movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, and a Tony-winning Broadway musical. (This is the stuff musicals are made of—did we mention Big Edie's "Tea for Two" routine?) This month, ACT and 5th Avenue theaters coproduce Seattle’s own staging of the musical Grey Gardens, and it's no small feat. Not everyone can rock a costume like Little Edie (see below).
The local theaters have asked Patti Cohenour, known to Seattle audiences as Signora Naccarelli in Intiman's The Light in the Piazza, to take on two of the show's most challenging roles. Cohenour will play Big Edie in the first act, circa the 1940s—when their East Hampton hog was high—and become scarf-wearing spinster Little Edie of the 1970s in Act II. Suzy Hunt and Tom Skerritt's niece Jessica Skerritt costar as Big Edie (1970s) and Little Edie (1940s), respectively.
This is the third such collaboration between ACT and 5th Avenue Theatre. Their first, new musical Vanities, was a bit of a dud. But last year's sophomore effort, First Date, was a big seller and will head to Broadway this summer. Grey Gardens is currently in previews at ACT Theatre and celebrates opening night this Thursday.