Big Edie and Little Edie, the eccentric mother and daughter socialites who famously lived in squalor — and were documented in the film, "Grey Gardens," and musicalized in the fictionalized Broadway show of the same name — have inspired another dramatic work.
A further creatively embellished stage version of the Beales' relationship will appear March 30 in the Philadelphia world premiere of David Robson's A Few Small Repairs, directed by Barrymore Award-winning director William Roudebush for Theater Catalyst's Painted Bird Project.
This is the Wilmington-based Painted Bird company's inaugural production being presented in nearby Philly. Performances will continue to April 22 at the 2nd Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street.
(For those keeping score, a Hollywood feature film is in the works about Edith Beale and daughter Edie, who were respectively the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.)
Instead of being set in the ramshackle Grey Gardens mansion in East Hampton, Long Island, A Few Small Repairs takes place at "Harbor Hill…the crumbling Newport mansion where 'Big' and 'Little' Alice protect, torment, lie and cling to each other," according to production notes. "Once two glamorous members of America's privileged class, they now face possible eviction by the Board of Health." The cast will feature Gene D' Alessandro, Hazel Bowers (as Big Alice), Foster Cronin, Arnold Kendall, Jerry Puma, Sonja Robson (as Little Alice) and Len Webb. The staging is presented under an Equity guest artist agreement.
David Robson said in production notes, "My wife gave me a birthday gift in 2001 — one I'd wanted: the film 'Grey Gardens,' newly released on DVD. Here were these two women — mother and daughter — trapped in this co-dependent, inescapable relationship. They were almost literally trapped inside their crumbling mansion. Once part of America's aristocracy, they were bound together, for better and worse. What I wanted to know was, How did this happen? The film never answers this question. That was the beginning of my exploration."
Robson found out that there was a musical in the works in 2003, around the time A Few Small Repairs was receiving a reading at the Lark Theatre in New York City. "What I soon realized was that my play is not the movie, nor is it meant to be," the writer said. "Come to see it and, if you know the film, you will recognize these types — these women. They're very distinctive, and I wanted to keep that. But beyond the surface, my storyline and other characters are very different, very unique. I was much more interested in exploring parent/child relationships —dreams achieved, dreams dashed — than I was in mirroring the Beales exactly. Still, Big and Little Edie did exist. They're part of our cultural history now. I've changed names and places in an attempt to make some sort of separation. My characters do and say things that the actual women never did. My play is not a documentary or a history; it's fiction. But those familiar with the real women will see them echoed in my play. Those who aren't are also in for a treat. These are fascinating and funny people."
Robson and his Barrymore Award-nominated actress wife Sonja Robson started Painted Bird Project. Philadelphia's InterAct Theatre staged David's Man Measures Man in 2001. Painted Bird's next project will be "a Pinter play that hasn't been done in these parts in ages, if ever," Robson said on the troupe's website.
David Robson's plays include After Denmark, Out of Place, Why I Want a Wife, A Few Small Repairs and Man Measures Man. His work has been presented by Florida's New Theatre; Rebel Theatre; Great Plains Theatre Conference; Acme Theater; Theatre One; Madhouse Theater Company; Alaska's Last Frontier Theatre Conference; Off-Broadway by the Lark Theatre; InterAct Theatre Company; the Shubin Theatre; the Brick Playhouse; City Theater; and the Mid-America Theatre Conference. He is the recipient of two playwriting fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts. He was a recent playwright in residence at the Lark Theatre Company in New York City. Robson holds an M.F.A. from Goddard College, an M.S. from Saint Joseph's University, and a B.A. from Temple University. He is an assistant professor of English at Delaware County Community College and a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Playwrights' Center.
The creative team of A Few Small Repairs includes set designer Dirk Durossette, costume designer Charlotte Cloe Fox Wind, lighting designer Joshua Schulman, sound designer James Gamble and stage manager Carol Laratonda.
For more information, call (215) 563-4330 or visit www.paintedbirdproductions.org.