Grey Gardens opens with a brief montage of newspaper clips telling the sensational story of two eccentric former socialites who had fallen on hard times and whose sprawling home in the tony Georgica Pond neighborhood of East Hampton, New York, had fallen into ruins:
“Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin are living in a large, garbage-ridden, filthy 28-room house with eight cats, fleas, cobwebs, and no running water — conditions so filthy that the Suffolk County Health Department has ordered them to clean up or face eviction. This is the very house ... called Grey Gardens.”
In 1975, the Maysles brothers, whose previous films included the Rolling Stones 1969 concert tour film Gimme Shelter, took viewers into the day-to-day lives of 77-year-old Edith Bouvier Beale, who doesn’t like wearing clothes, and “Little Edie,” her 56-year-old daughter who describes her own bag-lady chic as the new “revolutionary costume.” Thirty years later, the documentary was adapted into a Broadway musical, a pair of plays, and an award-winning HBO movie.
This week is Beale week in Memphis, thanks to the combined forces of Indie Memphis, Rhodes College, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and Circuit Playhouse. Fans of the Edies can catch the HBO film and the original documentary at the Brooks on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. On Friday, Muffie Meyer, who co-directed the documentary with the Maysles, will discuss “Decades of Great Documentaries” at Rhodes’ Blount Auditorium. She’ll also be at the Brooks on Saturday for a Q&A following the documentary’s screening.
The Circuit Playhouse production of the musical Grey Gardens stars two of the region’s most admired performers, Carla McDonald and Bates Brooks. Jimmy LeDuc, who staged Hedwig and the Angry Inch at TheatreWorks, directs. It opens Friday. -- Chris Davis