Review: Grey Gardens (Acting Up Stage Company)

Lisa Horner as "Little Edie Beale" in Grey GardensToronto’s Acting Up Stage Company presents a superb production of the musical Grey Gardens

I headed in to the Berkeley Street Theatre for Acting Up Stage Company’s production of Grey Gardens on Monday wondering what a musical based on a documentary would be like. It was fabulous.

The documentary is the Maysles brothers’ 1975 film Grey Gardens about mother and daughter, “Big” Edie and “Little” Edie Beales. The Beales are reclusive upper class women, aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, who live in a deteriorating mansion, Grey Gardens, with many cats, raccoons, and fleas, in East Hampton. They have definitely known better times.

There’s not a lot of action in the documentary. It shows the not very healthy relationship between the two women, the way that they resent each other while needing each other to survive. “Little” Edie in particular seems rather unstable and believes, with some justification, that her mother ruined her life.

The documentary has a very neutral viewpoint. It’s observation with no judgment. For me it was like watching someone else’s home movies; interesting for a little while but then I’d had enough.

The first act of the play gives some back story by adding a fictional party to celebrate “Little” Edie’s (Kira Guloien) 1941 engagement to Joe Kennedy Jr (Jeff Lillico). It helped me to start feeling something for the characters.

The second act takes place in the decrepit house in the early ’70s.

The entire cast is terrific but the show belongs to Lisa Horner. She plays “Big” Edie in the first act and “Little” Edie in the second.

As “Big” Edie she’s perfect as the kind of mother who would throw her children under a bus to get what she wants. Realizing that she’s going to be left alone she manages, with perfect “Who? Me?” innocence, to convince Joe that “Little” Edie isn’t the girl she seems; not the girl for him.

In the second act she is “Little” Edie. It’s as if she’s channeling her; all of the verbal and physical tics are there, the accent and delivery is perfect. It really was like seeing “Little” Edie in the documentary. Amazing.

There were two other performances that stood out for me. Guloien’s “Little” Edie in the first act was vulnerable, flirtatious, and eager to please.

Lillico turned in two excellent performances. I loved him as the slick, shallow Joe Kennedy in the first act. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that he was also the sweet, kind of dim handyman Jerry in the second act.

The feel of the first act was very 1940’s musical. There was a grand piano on the stage, the costumes were very dressy. Some of the songs in this act reflected the time—while making me cringe; Marry Well and Hominy Grits. Others reflect the dysfunctional relationships; Daddy’s Girl, Mother Darling, and Two Peas in a Pod.

The look and feel of the second act was quite true to the documentary. The difference for me was that it didn’t seem like a home movie. It felt real. The documentary didn’t stir any emotions for me; the show made me cry. Maybe that’s the magic of theatre.

Grey Gardens is a superb show and definitely one to see.


  • Grey Gardens is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St) until March 6
  • Performance times are Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 8pm, Friday and Sunday at 7 pm, Wednesday and Sunday at 1 pm
  • Ticket prices range from $35.00 to $55.00
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.368.3110, and in person at the box office

Photo of Lisa Horner as “Little” Edie Beale by Racheal McCaig Photography