The story of “Grey Gardens” takes a cue from Blanche DuBois, who puts on airs of high society and devolves into madness. More specifically, the play presents a surprising story involving two real women.

Grey Gardens

Tomorrow through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Arthur Miller Theater
From $12


The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre welcomes to the stage the play “Grey Gardens.” The play was adopted from the 1975 documentary film by the Maysles brothers, a cult classic that inspired the Tony award-winning Broadway production. Since the play has become a hit, Edmond Reynolds, the director of the Civic Theatre production, believes the time is right for it to hit the Ann Arbor stage.

The play depicts the lives of a mother and daughter, Edith and Little Edie, as they transition from a comfortable life of affluence to a state of delusion, becoming crazy cat women in the end. Edith tightly controls her daughter, failing to let Little Edie live her life independent from her. Consequently, they lead a lonely existence together in East Hampton, letting their home fall into decay and living in squalor, with dirt, filth and a host of animals as their only companions. One would think that the cousins of Jacquelyn Kennedy-Onassis would have her sophisticated flair and fashion-forward presence, but the audience is shown the contrary.

Reynolds has his own take on the heroines of this play:

“The characters are so darn likeable. They are smart women, are flawed, have a command of the language, (and they) represent the aristocracy in decline. They are viewed as outsiders who chose to live their lives their way without apologizing for it. It’s black or white. People either love it and love those women or people don’t get it and don’t like it,” he said.

The cast is composed of nine actors who each play multiple roles. The lead actress plays Edith in the first act and then plays the daughter in the second. Because of this arrangement, she has a more encompassing view of and relationship with both figures. School of Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Kevin Douglass plays Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. in the first act and later on plays the character of Jerry, a 17-year-old living in the neighborhood.

“One of the hardest parts is getting the accents down,” Douglass said. “Each has a very noticeable background that (is) very different from my Midwestern accent. (For Joe Kennedy), I researched his family, how he was raised and what was expected of him. I watched a lot of speeches made by his brothers. For Jerry, I took a lot from how I acted in high school.”

The play incorporates the dialogue from the documentary and intersperses it into the songs, similar to the Broadway production. Reynolds encapsulates the first act’s WWII setting with a score reminiscent of Cole Porter, while the music in the second act becomes haunting and mysterious, to accompany the play’s Tennessee Williams-esque storyline.

“The play opens up a lot of questions. There are no answers. It makes you look at yourself and look at people who you consider aren’t normal, who are different. You look at the mirror and decide those answers for yourself, and in the words of Big Eddy, ‘you choose,’ ” Reynolds said.

As “Grey Gardens” attempts to demonstrate, sometimes the most memorable stories are not the ones that resolve questions, but rather the ones that raise them.

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