Betty Buckley sees the silver lining in ‘Grey Gardens’

By Steve Parks


August 6, 2015

‘The universe must be aligned for me,” Betty Buckley says on her way to tech rehearsal for “Grey Gardens” at Bay Street Theater.

What she meant by alignment had nothing to do with her back and its six fractured vertebrae. Barely two months before Saturday’s official opening night, Buckley took a fall off her horse on her Texas ranch. The serendipitous alignment she spoke of is that her “Grey Gardens” character, a 70-something Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie), spends her stage time in bed or with a cane, which Buckley has used sparingly offstage during her rapid recovery.

“Grey Gardens,” the 2006 Broadway musical that starred Christine Ebersole in a Tony-winning role, makes its Hamptons debut, just down Route 114 from the East Hampton oceanfront mansion where this mostly true story took place. Rachel York — she played in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” on Broadway during the “Grey Gardens” run — takes on the daunting challenge of the Big and Little Edie roles. In Act I, York plays elder Edie as a middle-age socialite, and her daughter, Edie, in Act II, set 32 years later.

Buckley, who won a best-actress-in-a-musical Tony for Grizabella in “Cats,” is the bedridden Big Edie in Act II of “Grey Gardens.” The mother-daughter change in circumstances — from splendor to squalor — is startling. After Big Edie’s husband left her with the East Hampton home but little means of support, the place descended into such decay that Suffolk

County authorities were about to condemn it when Big Edie’s niece, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, paid to have it repaired.

FACT AND FICTION While Act I is highly speculative about what might have led to the two Edies’ misfortune, Act II hews closely to the Maysles brothers’ documentary “Grey Gardens,” released 40 years ago. The Edies become codependent

inmates amid ruins animated by feral cats and a slacker young man, Jerry, who delivers Newsday for a living and runs errands for the Beales. “That’s my favorite song I sing from the show, ‘Jerry, Likes My Corn.’ There’s something very sweet about it.”

Michael Wilson, who directed Buckley’s most recent Broadway show (“Old Friends,” 2014), directs “Grey Gardens,” which also features Howard McGillin. Buckley and McGillin appeared together in “Drood.”

OLD FRIENDS “It’s a nice reunion for me,” says Buckley, who’s also doing a concert Aug. 17 at Gateway Playhouse, singing selections from her latest CD, “Ghostlight,” produced by longtime Texas friend T. Bone Burnett. “I’ll do ‘Memory,’ too, of course. It’s the song that established me as a Broadway singing actress,” she says of the showstopping number by Trevor Nunn from “Cats.”

Other career mentors are gone now: Horton Foote, who wrote the screenplay for her second movie role, “Tender Mercies,” and recently, around the time of her fall, Dick Van Patten died. He was her co-star on TV’s “Eight Is Enough.”

“I’ve been blessed,” she says, “with kind and gifted friends.”