Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Grey Gardens
Custom Made Theatre Company

Also see Richard's reviews of Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Heathers and Trouble Cometh

David Aaron Brown, Mary Gibboney, and Juliana Lustenader
Custom Made Theatre Company is presenting a marvelous production of Grey Gardens. Based on the Maysles brothers documentary, the two-act musical was adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Doug Wright with a great score by Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie. The music depicts the fascinating journey of the eccentric Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale who became East Hampton's most infamous recluses (Jacqueline Kennedy was Edith's niece).

Grey Gardens is a bold and very imaginative musical. Doug Wright brings a sensitive imagination to Edith and "Little Edie" that's nothing short of brilliant. It's a poignant account of their lives and is set in two different times periods, 1941 in act one and 1973 in act two. The mother-daughter relationship in the second act shows a confrontation of bitter words, yet there is a healing process that follows.

Scott Frankel's music is wonderful, sparking and melodic, and Michael Korie's lyrics are ingenious and urbane. There is a flavor of Coward and Porter in the lyrics. The first act setting is straight out of a Noël Coward play since it opens on an estate in 1941 where names are dropped amid droll cocktail banter. In the second act, the songs lose the operetta tingle and the voices acquire a nasal Long Island rattle.

It takes three strong women to put this show over and director Stuart Bousel has found them in Heather Orth, Mary Gibboney, and Juliana Lustenader. Heather Orth gives a flawless performance in the dual role of Edith in the first act and Little Edie in the second act. She stunningly switches from the attention-famished society matron who loves to sing to the touching, frustrated eccentric 46-year-old woman in the second act. Her opening number in the second act, "The Revolutionary Costume for Today," is catchy and reminds me of the patter songs that Kay Thompson used to sing. Orth captures the character's physical mannerisms and Long Island drawl.

Mary Gibboney gives a brilliant performance as Edith in the second act. Stooped over, you would swear she is an 80-year-old woman. She gives a very touching rendition of "Jerry Likes My Corn." It is a poignant display of motherly warmth toward a 17-year-old boy played excellently by Nathan Brown. Juliana Lustenader gives a standout performance as "Little" Edie Beale in the first act. She has pitch perfect vocal cords in her renditions of "The Girl Who Has Everything" and "Daddy's Girl." Newcomer Nathan Brown gives a first rate performance as Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. in the first act and morphs outstandingly into the teenager Jerry in the second act. He has harmoniously energizing vocal cords when singing duets with Juliana Lustenader.

David Sikula gives a skillful performances as J.V. "Major" Bouvier and has powerful vocal chops singing "Marry Well" and when portraying Norman Vincent Pearl in "Choose to Be Happy" in the second act. David Aaron Brown gives a splendid performance as the fey Cowardesque piano-playing George. He actually plays the piano and does great backup tickling the ivories in the second act. Daniel Solomon gives a polished performance as the butler in the first act and the gardener in the second act. Youngsters Nandi Drayton as Jackie Bouvier and Gabriella Jarvie as Lee Bouvier are appealing in the first act.

Scenic designer Stewart Lyle has designed an effective set for the three-sided stage in the square, while William Campbell's lighting is bright and cheery. Costumes by Brooke Jennings are authentic apparel that would be worn by a wealthy family in the first act. Congratulations are in order to Stuart Bousel for putting on this difficult show and making an evening to enjoy.

Grey Gardens plays through June 21st, 2015. The show plays at the Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough Street, San Francisco For tickets go to

Photo: Jay Yamada

- Richard Connema