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‘Grey Gardens’ takes audiences on a poignant riches-to-rags journey

  • Written by Deborah Stone
It’s not often that audiences are treated to a true tour de force performance. But, in the Seattle debut of the musical, “Grey Gardens,” they get two for the price of one –Tony Award nominee Patti Cohenour and her co-star, well-known Seattle actress Suzy Hunt.

These talented women are powerhouse actresses, who make their indelible mark on highly challenging roles. The show, a coproduction of the 5th Avenue and ACT theatres, is based on the fascinating 1970s documentary that revealed the lives of the late recluse, Edith Bouvier Beale, “Big Edie,” and her quirky, eccentric daughter, also named Edith or “Little Edie.”

The Beales, who were born to a life of privilege, were close relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy. They resided in a 28-room East Hampton mansion called Grey Gardens, which, in its heyday in the 1940s, was the epitome of opulence.

Years later, however, mother and daughter were discovered living amid impoverished squalor in the now crumbling house. At the heart of this riches-to-rags story is the dysfunctional, codependent relationship between the two Edies.

Hints to this difficult pairing are given early on in Act I when the younger Edie (Jessica Skerritt), a lovely, spirited debutante, is upset with her mother’s plans to sing at her engagement party. She is afraid that her showoff mother will upstage her at this special event when all eyes should be on her and her betrothed, the debonair Navy pilot, Joe Kennedy Jr. (Matt Owen).

Big Edie makes matters worse when she tells Joe some stories about her daughter, painting her in a scandalous light and giving Joe reason to reconsider and ultimately break the engagement.

Distraught and angry, Little Edie leaves for New York City to try and live her life independently, while pursuing her dreams of making it big in show biz.

In Act 2, we find mother and daughter living together once again, but this time the state of their domicile is quite different. After years of neglect, Grey Gardens is in shambles – a vermin infected pit, crawling with fleas, cats and even a raccoon.

Big Edie, now an elderly invalid, is reliant on her daughter for her basic needs, yet she continues to be a domineering, difficult presence, constantly bickering and carping at Little Edie.

Meanwhile, Little Edie has retreated into a world of her own, passing the time modeling odd makeshift outfits and tending to the pet cats, while dreaming of stardom. Both women suffer from delusions, as they both believe they were destined for fame.

Actress Patti Cohenour does double duty in the show, assuming the role of Big Edie in the first act and Little Edie in the second. She fully embodies both of these complex characters and manages to make them human, allowing audiences to see the women as survivors and not merely tragic symbols.

In her hands, the Edies are real people, not grotesque caricatures from some Gothic novel. Big Edie is a flamboyant figure, a high society matron, but underneath, she is a repressed and miserable woman who doesn’t want to grow old alone.

Little Edie shows distinct signs of mental illness, with her mercurial personality and tendency to engage in sporadic rants and rages. Though she feels the urge to escape her stifling existence, she can’t because she is scared, insecure and unable to effectively cope in the outside world. The responsibility she feels towards her mother exacts its own sentence, entrapping her into the role of eternal caretaker. Suzy Hunt gives an equally compelling performance as the aging Big Edie, a bedridden woman, who despite being physically crippled, is still able to exert power and control over her daughter. Hunt shows her character’s strength, yet also her vulnerability and fear, which dictates her often extreme behavior.

Hunt and Cohenour are joined by a solid cast of actor/singers, who take on different roles throughout the production. Of special note are Seattle theater mainstays Jessica Skerritt, as Little Edie in the first act, and Allen Fitzpatrick as Major Bouvier and Norman Vincent Peale. As to the music, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie assemble a wonderful mix of vintage-like Broadway tunes, anthems and ballads that elicit a wide array of emotions from humor to heart wrenching pathos.

Kudos go to the musicians, who do an exemplary job from their hidden locale, and Matthew Smucker, who should be applauded for his creative pop-up sets. “Grey Gardens” is a unique, well-staged and skillfully produced musical that takes audiences on an unforgettable journey.

“Grey Gardens” runs through June 2nd at ACT – A Contemporary Theatre - in Seattle. For ticket information, contact ACT ticket office at: (206) 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org, or The 5th Avenue box office at: (206) 625-1900 or www.5thavenue.org.

Evergreen Family Theatre presents ‘Leaving Iowa’

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

Tuna
Photography by Marsha Stueckle. Back row, left to right: Jenn Ollivier and Daniel Wolf; seated: Teresa Widner and Tony Ventrella
Grab your travel guide and your crispy treats, Evergreen Family Theatre is headed out on a road trip.  EFT is pleased to present this nostalgic and humorous story of a classic family vacation.

“Leaving Iowa” opens March 1 for three weekends—Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.

Meet Don Browning as he sets out to find the perfect place to scatter his father’s ashes.

Told in flashback, this hilarious and sentimental story calls up memories of the family road trip — packed with good humor and celebration of family.

The ensemble cast includes sportscaster, Tony Ventrella, Teresa Widner, Jenn Ollivier, Daniel Wolf, Jan Dunlap and Dave Selvig. “Leaving Iowa” is perfect for ages 10 and up.

Tickets are $14/12 at brownpapertickets.com. Evergreen Family Theatre is housed at RedWood Family Church (11500 Redmond-Woodinville Road, Redmond 98052).

For more information, call (425) 885-2244 or send email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cirque’s ‘Amaluna’ makes its U.S. debut at Marymoor Park

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Cirque Amaluna Water Bowl act courtesy
Courtesy Photo. Amaluna water bowl act
Cirque du Soleil returns to Marymoor Park this winter with its new production, “Amaluna.”

The show, which had its world premiere in Montreal last April, is directed by New York theatrical maven, Diane Paulus, who is known for productions that go beyond the boundaries of conventional theatrical settings to involve audiences in immersive environments.

This will be the show’s U.S. debut and marks the third time the company has performed under the Big Top at Marymoor.

“It’s also the first time for Cirque to do a show in winter at this venue,” adds Catherine Major, of C Major Marketing. “But people don’t have to worry about being cold, as the Big Top is fully heated and it’s quite cozy in there.”

As for the theme of “Amaluna,” Major notes that it loosely follows the storyline of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Audiences are invited to a mysterious island governed by goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. Prospera, the queen, directs her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony in a rite that honors femininity, renewal, rebirth and balance.

She causes a storm, which brings a group of young men to the island, triggering an epic love story between the queen’s daughter, Miranda, and a brave young suitor named Romeo.

The couple’s love is put to a test and they must face a series of challenging trials and overcome setbacks before they can achieve mutual trust and faith.


CdS_Amaluna_act Tight Wire CWP_218
Courtesy Photo. Amaluna tight wire act
The name “Amaluna” is a melding of the words “ama,” which refers to “mother” in numerous languages, and “luna,” which means “moon” and symbolizes femininity.

 

It evokes the mother-daughter relationship and the notion of goddess and protector of the planet.

“Amaluna” is also the name of the mysterious island where the story takes place.

Of note, this is the first show for Cirque where 70 percent of the cast of 52 artists is female and the entire accompanying musical band is comprised of women.

“Amaluna is a tribute to the work and voice of women,” explains Fernand Rainville, the show’s creative director. “The show is a reflection on balance from a woman’s perspective.”

Director Diane Paulus says, “Amaluna is less about feminism and more about reconnecting to our world in a different way.”

There are many exciting acts in the production, one of which includes a giant, crystal water bowl in which Miranda performs a challenging hand-balancing routine before diving and snaking through the container.

Romeo subsequently joins her and the two perform a lovely series of movements together.

In another, several of the performers fly out over the audience on straps suspended from a carousel apparatus that rotates high above them.

In “Manipulation,” Prospera brings Romeo and Miranda to watch the Balance Goddess creating a world in equilibrium with a mobile made of palm leaf ribs.

Breathtaking acrobatics are at the heart of “Teeterboard,” where young men launch themselves high into the air and land in seemingly impossible positions.

Four artists showcase their skills in an innovative tight wire act, as they dance a tango, bounce into the air like trampolinists and walk the wire in high heels and “en pointe” in ballet toe shoes.

Of course, the uneven bars and unicycle also make appearances in two dazzling numbers, and then there are Cirque’s wonderfully comical and talented clowns who provide ongoing entertainment throughout the show.

Scott Pask’s set is evocative of a lush, enchanted island with a forest of bamboo-like branches that provides the frame for the action which unfolds on stage.

“It’s a very romantic and beautiful show,” comments Major, “as well as being incredibly theatrical.”

Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna” opens January 31 under the Big Top at Marymoor Park in Redmond.

For ticket information: www.cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna.


Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna” opens January 31 under the Big Top at Marymoor Park in Redmond.

‘Beavers’ at the NW Stream Center

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

On Friday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. the Adopt A Stream Foundation and Snohomish County Parks & Recreation are teaming up with Snohomish County Surface Water Management to present a free showing of the IMAX movie Beavers on the Northwest Stream Center’s big screen in Snohomish County’s McCollum Park (600 - 128th Street SE, Everett, WA 98208).

“The whole family will enjoy Beavers,” says Adopt A Stream Foundation Director Tom Murdoch.  “Everyone will be able to take a virtual swim with beavers and experience the beautiful

underwater habitat of one of natures greatest engineers.”

This short (31 minute) movie is set in pristine forest and lakes that are in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  The film follows the lives of a family of beavers.  You will be able to watch baby beavers (kits) grow, play, and, along with their parents, transform the world around them.

This movie has played to over 14 million viewers and delighted audiences all over the world.  Sammy the Salmon will introduce the film by explaining the benefits that beavers provide to salmon, trout, and a variety of wildlife.  After the movie, Murdoch will answer questions from the audience about beaver habits and their habitat requirements, and share a few of his experiences with North America’s biggest rodent. This event is FREE. However, you must call (425) 316-8592 to reserve a seat.  If you think you want to see this movie, don’t delay in registering or you will be missing “the biggest dam movie you ever saw — Beavers.”   To learn more about upcoming Streamkeeper Academy events including the February 23 Bears show starring two Karelian Bear Dogs, go to to the Adopt A Stream Foundation website: www.streamkeeper.org.

Woodinville Rep presents ‘Bold Grace: The Voyages of the Pirate O’Malley’

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

Bold Grace
Photo Courtesy of Woodinville Repertory Theatre Anna Richardson as Bold Grace
During the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, England wanted a tame, obedient Ireland.

Grace O’Malley, daughter of an Irish noble, in love with all things about the sea and fearless in war and with men, didn’t do tame.

And during her 70 plus years, she resisted the English  as a ruler, a wife, mother and pirate. It’s a great story and the subject of “Bold Grace: The Voyages of the Pirate O’Malley,” which the Woodinville Repertory Theatre is presenting this month.

The one-woman show stars Anna Richardson, who premiered the role last summer at the Burien Little Theatre. The play is written by Ashley Schalow.

The Woodinville Rep will present the play Fridays and Saturdays through Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. There will be a matinee on Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 online or $20 at the door. The charge is $15 for students and seniors.  For more information or to buy tickets, check the Woodinville Rep’s website (www.woodinvillerep.org) or its page on Facebook.

All shows are at Denali Slab and Tile Studio ( www.denalirocks.com), 16120 Woodinville Redmond Road NE, Suite 12, in Woodinville.

The real Grace lived a wildly full life. She pirated up and down the Irish coasts, east and west. She led an army of 200 men. She had her own fleet of ships. She was married twice, had four children (one born while Grace was at sea), spent several years in English prisons and even had a documented face-to-face meeting with Queen Elizabeth I. It is believed the conversation was in Latin. The Queen didn’t speak Irish; Grace’s English was limited at best.

In the play, Grace relives the key points in her life, starting with her first voyage with her father at the age of nine until her death in 1603. To get him to agree to take her, she cut her hair.

Her opinions are frank. Her husbands were mediocre; one of her three sons was a loser. She watches the weather on the sea. Not to watch means injury, possibly death for a ship’s crew.

Grace hates Sir Richard Bingham, the brutal English governor of Connacht, one of the western provinces of Ireland.

She respected Queen Elizabeth and mourned when the queen passed away only months before Grace herself died.

The play is a triumph for Anna Richardson, who plays Grace at all her ages – from nine to 73. The actress has appeared in numerous plays in Seattle and Baton Rouge.

Her roles have included Portia in “The Merchant of Venice” at Hatcher Hall in Louisiana; Wanda the Shark in “Arr! A Dinosaur Ate My Spaceship” at Theater Schmeater; and Elizabeth Lavenza in the Burien Little Theatre’s production of “Frankenstein.”

Schalow is a 2009 graduate of Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore.  She wrote “Proud Grace” as her capstone project.

The play was the 2011 one-act winner in the Bill and Peggy Hunt Playwrights Festival at the Burien Little Theatre. The prize was its first production, directed by Steve Cooper.

Cooper also directs the Woodinville Rep’s production. He has been involved in the theatre’s productions for years and directed “An Evening with Christopher Durang” in 2010.


The show is the first of three productions scheduled for 2013.

Next up in March is “Greater Tuna,” the hysterical comedy about Texas’ third-smallest town.

“Passengers,” scheduled for June, is about 18 passengers whose paths cross in a Midwestern bus station.

In October, look for “Wally’s Cafe,” a three-character show about Wally, who buys a cafe on the wrong side of the road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.