Carrie Cooke Ketterman. Photo: Chicken Coop

Grey Gardens, the Musical

Book by Doug Wright
Music by Scott Frankel, Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Jason Cooper 

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

Reports of the reclusive lifestyles of the cousins to American royalty the Kennedy family rocked the headlines in the 1970s. Edith Beale and her daughter, Little Edie were the focus of a documentary taking an inside look at their eccentric life, overgrown yards, and countless cats in the broken-down Rockefeller mansion. The focal point, though, remained the mother and daughter dynamic. Constantly yelling and arguing, this relationship showed the complicated nature of family, the depths of mental health issues, and what it means to live with grief and regret. Grey Gardens, the Musical made its local debut on the Ursuline Arts Center stage with Chicken Coop Theatre Company.

Structured more like a series of one-act plays, the musical is divided between the 1940s and 1970s. While the second act contains familiar scenes from the notorious documentary, the first act serves as an extended flashback of Edith Beale’s heightened luxurious lifestyle. The production contains well-crafted musical numbers with simple dances and set pieces that establish a sense of place. Smartly placed pianos and fancy furniture are replaced by dirty and claustrophobic beds complete with “The Great Dancer Edie Beale” sign, a collection of worn, torn knick-knacks and mementos from a more glorious time, and the ever-present front porch where Little Edie produces her famous monologues. 

While the real-life story of Edith and her daughter is riddled with shame and regrets of missed opportunities, the true tragedy revolves around women who face the long-term effects of oppression. Opening the show, Carol Tyree Williams appears as Edith Beale, and her longing tone sets a mood for the betrayals that are to come. Later in the play, Williams gives a heartbreaking performance as the bedridden matriarch with every hollering plea for her Little Edie to not leave her side. Courtney Glenny is the younger version of Little Edie Beale. Motivated by her dreams and love for Joseph Kennedy, played with flirtatious charm and a nearly flawless Boston accent by Ben Gierhart, Glenny is lively and spirited as the young Beale girl. It is her sweet charm that makes the tragic turns so harsh and the lasting effects more harrowing yet understanding.

At the core of the production is Carrie Cooke Ketterman playing dual roles of Young Edith in the first act and Little Edie as we have come to know her in the second act. Vivacious and stunning with a touch of venom, Ketterman plays Young Edith with tenacity and elegant showmanship, but it is her turn as Little Edie Beale that stops the show. With the signature costumes, authentic posture, mannerisms, and vocal inflection, Ketterman has taken the time and research to not just play this character but to become Little Edie. Far from any kind of impersonation, Ketterman shows us her comedic chops while singing about her costume with a brazen crescendo in one scene then giving her own literal spin with the American flag in another. As Little Edie, Ketterman brings out vulnerability not often acknowledged within her story. Truly, this is a beautiful tribute to a commonly misunderstood woman. 

On a personal note, I was slated to cover this show back when it was originally set to perform in the Spring of 2020. At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, shows were canceled, rescheduled, and theaters were closed. While the theater community adjusted and prevailed, I have been able to see other shows but this was the one I wanted to see the most. And while director Jason Cooper expressed his concerns for the sophomore slump of his Chicken Coop company, I can confidently say he has a great show on his hands. And it was well worth the nearly two-year wait. 

Featuring Carol Tyree Williams, Carrie Cooke Ketterman, Courtney Glenny, Sam A Mannino, Frank Goodloe, Channing Rivera, Brylee Deuser, Ben Gierhart, Rusty Henle

Grey Gardens, the Musical

August 12-14 @ 8:00 pm
August 15 @ 2: 00 pm

The Chicken Coop Theater
The Ursuline Arts Center
3113 Lexington Road
Louisville, KY 40206

Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and as well. Thanks for reading!