At Large Grey Gardens: The Good, the Bad, and the Courtney
posted by December 22 at 11:19 AMon
Hello, citizens of the Slog. Please forgive my lazy Slog habits both this week and next as I’m on vacation, visiting my dude in NYC, Amtraking to Virginia to see my family for Xmas, and determined to bask in experiences I am not compelled to immediately summarize with hypertext.
Nevertheless, I’ll toss up virtual postcards when I see noteworthy shit—like the musical of Grey Gardens, based on the cult-classic Maysles brothers’ documentary, now running on Broadway. As anyone who’s seen the movie can tell you, the idea of a Grey Gardens musical is spooky but far from hopeless. When your source material is 90 minutes of film following a pair of delusional shut-ins with fascinating and tragic backstories as they babble at each other and the camera, your musical better damn well be weird, and Grey Gardens: The Musical isn’t weird enough.
The first act is most promising, in part because it's devoted to something that doesn't appear in the original film—life at Grey Gardens "before the fall." This is stuff all fans of the film have envisioned for themselves, and having it presented in beautiful musical form—even suspciously straightforward musical form—is delightful. Even the cheesiness is in tune, as I couldn't help thinking we weren't watching reality, but the dazed memories of Little Edie, whose mind might naturally cast all past events as a gorgeously harmonious musical.
Unfortunately, Act 2 proves there's nothing that deep or layered going on here. The second act is everything we know from the movie—mother Edie and daughter Edie surviving in squalor and shared delusion—and things get laughably cheesy very fast. (Example that will only make sense to Grey Gardens die-hards: Big Edie sings a Disney-ish power ballad called "Jerry Likes My Corn.") Act 2 is where the musical does wrong by its source material, injecting a simplicity and cheese that is an insult to the historic individuality of the Beales. Things are saved only by the ace performances of Mary-Louise Wilson as Big Edie and especially Christine Ebersole as Little Edie. (Ebersole's "The Revolutionary Costume for Today" is the one second-act number that comes closest to the spirit of the source material.)
Speaking of fascinatingly poetic human train wrecks: I also saw the VH1 documentary The Return of Courtney Love. Holy moly! I won't rule her out as a cultural force until she's dead, but damn, this was hard to watch. She's "clean and sober." She chants. She hangs out with Frances Bean and Carrie Fisher and Linda Perry, who is producing Courtney's forthcoming new album (and who admits America's Sweetheart was ruined by cocaine; the doc also confirms that during her worst period, Courtney was a crackhead.) Now she's reportedly sober, and judging by the documentary evidence, Courtney self-medicated for years with whatever drugs she could find, and now that she's "quit," she's just crazy. Like, seriously. As my fella said as we watched the doc in shock and awe: "Courtney's gardens have grown so grey."