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Niffer Clark and Marilyn White start in Off the Wall Theatre's production of "Grey Gardens."
Niffer Clark and Marilyn White start in Off the Wall Theatre's production of "Grey Gardens."

"Grey Gardens" is a home run

One of the easy lessons to learn in life is that when you walk out onto the ledge make sure that there is something down below in case you fall.

Being out on the ledge is nothing new for Dale Gutzman and his tiny Off The Wall Theatre and he has never been afraid to walk out there without something to fall off.

Last year Off the Wall took on the controversy of "Trainspotting" and delivered a scathing and the visceral performance that was virtually unequaled in Milwaukee theater last season.

Gutzman is out on the ledge again with the opening of "Grey Gardens," a quirky musical based on an almost 30-year-old documentary film, of all things.

And he is proving, once again, that when you take a story with fascination and cast it with actors who are incredible, you end up with an absolute home run of a play.

The story of the play is about two women, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter – "Big Edie" and "Little Edie."

If the name Bouvier rings a bell, it should because these two women were related to Jacqueline Bouvier Onassis.

The story of the play spans 30 years. From the day of a party celebrating the engagement of little Edie to 30 years later when the two women have been consigned to live in Grey Gardens, along with dozens of cats, thousands of insects and empty cupboards and refrigerators.

This is the story of a mother and her daughter and the things they do to each other, born out of emotion and forged in a cauldron of jealousy and empty hopes.

In 1975 Albert and David Maysles were intrigued by the story of these two women who lived in an East Hampton mansion that was "unfit for human habitation." Their documentary film won awards and has been honored in American film lore.

Turning this film into a musical was a risky proposition. But it enjoyed great critical and even box office success during runs both off-Broadway and on Broadway.

Gutzman has directed a play that opened Wednesday night and that cast a spell in the tiny theater. The spell comes both from the story and in large measure from actors who are at the absolute top of their game.

Jack Forbes Wilson is a singer, piano player and actor who absolutely commands the stage. His portrayal of the dissolute George Gould Strong makes you cringe with curiosity and hold out your arms to support his weakness.

Alexandra Bonesho continues to climb into the upper regions of Milwaukee's acting talent with her portrayal of the daughter, Little Edie, during the first act.

I saw Bonesho for the first time last year in the wonderful "Microcrisis" at Next Act Theatre. She is a captivating presence on stage and can hold her own with the best that Milwaukee has to offer.

Put this play truly belongs to Niffer Clark, who never fails to dazzle in whatever role she has.

I saw this play on Broadway and Christine Ebersole won a Tony award for her portrayal of both Big Edie in the first act and Little Edie when the women had lost their minds.

Clarke brings incredible depth and intelligence along with a sparkling wit to a role that demands significant choices be made by the actor.

From the sparkling blue of her eyes to the dedicated movement of her body, Clark radiates from the stage like a sun around which we all circle.

Her ability to wrap her arms around the stage and around her role and to make it her very own is virtually unparalleled in this town.

One of the most surprising things about Grey Gardens is how sweet and pretty the music is. The story is so unusual and so bizarre that you would expect music that set your teeth on edge.

But there are some beautiful songs in this play and Wilson has arranged the music to get the very most out of his singers and the songs.

Grey Gardens runs through Sept. 22 at Off the Wall Theatre.

Talkbacks

Bucher | Sept. 13, 2013 at 12:06 a.m. (report)

CORRECTED VERSION: First send was missing the word "like" in paragraph #15: " ... write more LIKE critics and ....
thanks...will be curious if this does, indeed, get posted ... I hope it does...
mbucher

THANK you for the SWELL article on JERKER. I mean that, too.
mb
___

Dear Dave Begel and ONMMILWAUKEE:

Dale Gutzman's production of GREY GARDENS is one of his more/most successful (on all fronts) and memorable stagings in recent times, but it is so much more.... It is a testament to the power of ENSEMBLE.

OFF THE WALL's staging is certainly a home run, but, hey, Dave? >>>

It takes NINE players + to make a baseball team, Dave.

Actress/performer (she is both) Marilyn White as Edie's mother (Edith Bouvier Beale a.k.a "Big Edie") in Act Two (also seen in part one) shimmers with nuance and simplicity, as does Ms. Clarke. BOTH artists make the play happen.

But the ENTIRE ensemble contributed to make this production.

The leading players you mentioned are absolutely swell ~ to be 110% sure.

But the set pieces don't move by themselves and the larger choral numbers (and there are more than one of them) don't sing themselves.

There are established OFF THE WALL players here and new faces in the production as well. Here are the list of performance names, as I understand it to be:

Niffer Clarke, Marilyn White, Jack Forbes Wilson, Alexandra Bonesho, Jeremy C. Welter, Robert Hirschi, Lawrence J. Lukasavage, Alison Pogorelc, Olivia Poole, Sandy Lewis, and Barbara Weber. (Apologies if I have omitted anyone or misspelled anyone's name...).

Wow. That took ONE SENTENCE to mention the entire cast. Is that so darn hard?

Maybe if writers were less prone to favor us of their memories of other productions (which one might reasonably argue does NOT belong in a critical examination of the play one is ACTUALLY seeing -- i.e. the production one is getting paid to review), then perhaps there would be room to simply mention the/an entire ensemble. A review is some part journalism, at least. There should be a list of who, what, where, when and why. If the NEW YORK TIMES can do it, I bet Milwaukee media portals might be able to do it, as well.

And perhaps the set designer might be mentioned or the very lush sense of costuming created by lord only knows who, because none of these people WERE EVER MENTIONED in your column. OFF THE WALL's resident designer David Roper designs sets with (probably) little or no budget and the creative use of flexible set in this production (and so many others at OTW Theatre) is a visible proof of his creativity and ability to work near-wonders in a small setting.

Not mentioning all the people who make the production happen is akin to saying that Dave Begel "is" ONMILWAUKEE.COM. Of course, Dave, you are a contributor to ONMILWAUKEE, but you have editors, managing editors, ad sales people, office staff and janitors on staff, all behind you, making ONMILWAUKEE "happen."

Your reviews and other articles don't happen by themselves...you have a lot of people behind you supporting your work, so that your voice gets read by a lot of people.

Come on! When are Milwaukee reviewers going to write more like critics and less like USA TODAY verbal pie charts? A production isn't just one or two people. It's a coordinated, rehearsed GROUP EFFORT, and the entire ensemble should at least have their names mentioned (good, bad or indifferent).

And I am not just bringing this writer "up on charges." Countless other MILWAUKEE writers and (in theory) reviewers fail to mention the acting ensemble or any technical staff, unless it is at one of the 3 big theatres. And where are the editors? They share responsibility for allowing writers to fail in their journalistic duties. If one didn't enjoy the contributions of a major player, don't fail to mention them. Simply state with critical veracity and some amount of artistic acumen WHY you (as the reviewer) felt their contribution was somehow lacking. Not mentioning performers in leading roles only demonstrates that possibly the writers may not truly or fully understand acting, directing or actually producing a performance, having never in their lifetime stuck any of their own money in an actual production. And what makes "good directing" or a "good director," by the way? It's not really mentioned in this review --- sure, there is a favorable gloss lacquered onto the tone of the article, but what exactly did the director do that contributed to the success of the production? Casting? Blocking/staging? Textual analysis? Serving tasty cookies at intermission? What, exactly?

I could write more (and maybe ONMILWAUKEE should hire me!), but either the reader is grooving on my message or they have already tuned out long ago.

HEY!> It's absolutely FANTASTIC that ONMILWAUKEE actually writes about theatre. They don't have to, and they could use the space for advertising or more articles about the things that Milwaukeeans actually will support (liquor, bars, porn, guns, Brewers, Packers, gossip and scandal). But the ONMILWAUKEE editors do schedule space and staff energies (which equals $$$) to cover the arts. THANK you, ONMILWAUKEE.COM.

But when I read half a review of a really fine production, and if there is the "YOUR OPINION" button, just like Pandora's older, grayer uncle, I just have to push that button. Hey, maybe some of it got edited out---who knows? I wasn't there when this article was handed in and the final "edition" went to cyber print. So, my apologies if material ended up on the cutting room floor.

Thanks for reading. I feel confident that no wrath will be visited upon my head for sharing my opinion (as a loyal reader of ONMILWAUKEE and as a "citizen") in what is still (partially) a free country. And if it is? Well, Does anyone want to buy a theatre in Bay View? Would make a good location for a bar, cafe, restaurant or you can return it to an adult bookstore!

Sincerely and with good wishes.

Mark Bucher

(DISCLOSURE: Mark Bucher founded the Boulevard Theatre in Bay View in 1985. It is currently staging JERKER from September 18 through the 22nd at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center at 1110 North Market Street. Visit the Boulevard website for more information at www.boulevardtheatre.com.)

(DISCLOSURE, PART II: Mr. Bucher has had many pleasant conversations with Mr. Begel as well as more than a few cyber differing of opinions, so to speak. He has seen Mr. Begel perform with the former MILWAUKEE SHAKES, as well as WINDFALL THEATRE. Mr. Bucher did not review those productions, but if he had? ~ he would definitely have included Mr. Begel in those reviews.)

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Bucher | Sept. 12, 2013 at 11:14 p.m. (report)

Dear Dave Begel and ONMMILWAUKEE:

Dale Gutzman's production of GREY GARDENS is one of his more/most successful (on all fronts) and memorable stagings in recent times, but it is so much more.... It is a testament to the power of ENSEMBLE.

OFF THE WALL's staging is certainly a home run, but, hey, Dave? >>>

It takes NINE players + to make a baseball team, Dave.

Actress/performer (she is both) Marilyn White as Edie's mother (Edith Bouvier Beale a.k.a "Big Edie") in Act Two (also seen in part one) shimmers with nuance and simplicity, as does Ms. Clarke. BOTH artists make the play happen.

But the ENTIRE ensemble contributed to make this production.

The leading players you mentioned are absolutely swell ~ to be 110% sure.

But the set pieces don't move by themselves and the larger choral numbers (and there are more than one of them) don't sing themselves.

There are established OFF THE WALL players here and new faces in the production as well. Here are the list of performance names, as I understand it to be:

Niffer Clarke, Marilyn White, Jack Forbes Wilson, Alexandra Bonesho, Jeremy C. Welter, Robert Hirschi, Lawrence J. Lukasavage, Alison Pogorelc, Olivia Poole, Sandy Lewis, and Barbara Weber. (Apologies if I have omitted anyone or misspelled anyone's name...).

Wow. That took ONE SENTENCE to mention the entire cast. Is that so darn hard?

Maybe if writers were less prone to favor us of their memories of other productions (which one might reasonably argue does NOT belong in a critical examination of the play one is ACTUALLY seeing -- i.e. the production one is getting paid to review), then perhaps there would be room to simply mention the/an entire ensemble. A review is some part journalism, at least. There should be a list of who, what, where, when and why. If the NEW YORK TIMES can do it, I bet Milwaukee media portals might be able to do it, as well.

And perhaps the set designer might be mentioned or the very lush sense of costuming created by lord only knows who, because none of these people WERE EVER MENTIONED in your column. OFF THE WALL's resident designer David Roper designs sets with (probably) little or no budget and the creative use of flexible set in this production (and so many others at OTW Theatre) is a visible proof of his creativity and ability to work near-wonders in a small setting.

Not mentioning all the people who make the production happen is akin to saying that Dave Begel "is" ONMILWAUKEE.COM. Of course, Dave, you are a contributor to ONMILWAUKEE, but you have editors, managing editors, ad sales people, office staff and janitors on staff, all behind you, making ONMILWAUKEE "happen."

Your reviews and other articles don't happen by themselves...you have a lot of people behind you supporting your work, so that your voice gets read by a lot of people.

Come on! When are Milwaukee reviewers going to write more critics and less like USA TODAY verbal pie charts? A production isn't just one or two people. It's a coordinated, rehearsed GROUP EFFORT, and the entire ensemble should at least have their names mentioned (good, bad or indifferent).

And I am not just bringing this writer "up on charges." Countless other MILWAUKEE writers and (in theory) reviewers fail to mention the acting ensemble or any technical staff, unless it is at one of the 3 big theatres. And where are the editors? They share responsibility for allowing writers to fail in their journalistic duties. If one didn't enjoy the contributions of a major player, don't fail to mention them. Simply state with critical veracity and some amount of artistic acumen WHY you (as the reviewer) felt their contribution was somehow lacking. Not mentioning performers in leading roles only demonstrates that possibly the writers may not truly or fully understand acting, directing or actually producing a performance, having never in their lifetime stuck any of their own money in an actual production. And what makes "good directing" or a "good director," by the way? It's not really mentioned in this review --- sure, there is a favorable gloss lacquered onto the tone of the article, but what exactly did the director do that contributed to the success of the production? Casting? Blocking/staging? Textual analysis? Serving tasty cookies at intermission? What, exactly?

I could write more (and maybe ONMILWAUKEE should hire me!), but either the reader is grooving on my message or they have already tuned out long ago.

HEY!> It's absolutely FANTASTIC that ONMILWAUKEE actually writes about theatre. They don't have to, and they could use the space for advertising or more articles about the things that Milwaukeeans actually will support (liquor, bars, porn, guns, Brewers, Packers, gossip and scandal). But the ONMILWAUKEE editors do schedule space and staff energies (which equals $$$) to cover the arts. THANK you, ONMILWAUKEE.COM.

But when I read half a review of a really fine production, and if there is the "YOUR OPINION" button, just like Pandora's older, grayer uncle, I just have to push that button. Hey, maybe some of it got edited out---who knows? I wasn't there when this article was handed in and the final "edition" went to cyber print. So, my apologies if material ended up on the cutting room floor.

Thanks for reading. I feel confident that no wrath will be visited upon my head for sharing my opinion (as a loyal reader of ONMILWAUKEE and as a "citizen") in what is still (partially) a free country. And if it is? Well, Does anyone want to buy a theatre in Bay View? Would make a good location for a bar, cafe, restaurant or you can return it to an adult bookstore!

Sincerely and with good wishes.

Mark Bucher

(DISCLOSURE: Mark Bucher founded the Boulevard Theatre in Bay View in 1985. It is currently staging JERKER from September 18 through the 22nd at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center at 1110 North Market Street. Visit the Boulevard website for more information at www.boulevardtheatre.com.)

(DISCLOSURE, PART II: Mr. Bucher has had many pleasant conversations with Mr. Begel as well as more than a few cyber differing of opinions, so to speak. He has seen Mr. Begel perform with the former MILWAUKEE SHAKES, as well as WINDFALL THEATRE. Mr. Bucher did not review those productions, but if he had? ~ he would definitely have included Mr. Begel in those reviews.)



Dale Gutzman's production of GREY GARDENS is one of his more/most successful (on all fronts) and memorable stagings in recent times, but it is so much more.... It is a testament to the power of ENSEMBLE.

OFF THE WALL's staging is certainly a home run, but, hey, Dave? >>>

It takes NINE players + to make a baseball team, Dave.

Actress/performer (she is both) Marilyn White as Edie's mother in Act Two (also seen in part one) shimmers with nuance and simplicity, as does Ms. Clarke. BOTH artists make the play happen.

But the ENTIRE ensemble contributed to make this production.

The leading players you mentioned are absolutely swell ~ to be 110% sure.

But the set pieces don't move by themselves and the larger choral numbers (and there are more than one of them) don't sing themselves.

There are established OFF THE WALL players here and new faces in the production as well. Here are the list of performance names, as I understand it to be:

Niffer Clarke, Marilyn White, Jack Forbes Wilson, Alexandra Bonesho, Jeremy C. Welter, Robert Hirschi, Lawrence J. Lukasavage, Alison Pogorelc, Olivia Poole, Sandy Lewis, and Barbara Weber. (Apologies if I have omitted anyone or misspelled anyone's name...).

Wow. That took ONE SENTENCE to mention the entire cast. Is that so darn hard?

Maybe if writers were less prone to favor us of their memories of other productions (which one might reasonably argue does NOT belong in a critical examination of the play one is ACTUALLY seeing -- i.e. the production one is getting paid to review), then perhaps there would be room to simply mention the/an entire ensemble. A review is some part journalism, at least. There should be a list of who, what, where, when and why. If the NEW YORK TIMES can do it, I bet Milwaukee media portals might be able to do it, as well.

And perhaps the set designer might be mentioned or the very lush sense of costuming created by lord only knows who, because none of these people WERE EVER MENTIONED in your column. OFF THE WALL's resident designer David Roper designs sets with (probably) little or no budget and the creative use of flexible set in this production (and so many others at OTW Theatre) is a visible proof of his creativity and ability to work near-wonders in a small setting.

Not mentioning all the people who make the production happen is akin to saying that Dave Begel "is" ONMILWAUKEE.COM. Of course, Dave, you are a contributor to ONMILWAUKEE, but you have editors, managing editors, ad sales people, office staff and janitors on staff, all behind you, making ONMILWAUKEE "happen."

Your reviews and other articles don't happen by themselves...you have a lot of people behind you supporting your work, so that your voice gets read by a lot of people.

Come on! When are Milwaukee reviewers going to write more critics and less like USA TODAY verbal pie charts? A production isn't just one or two people. It's a coordinated, rehearsed GROUP EFFORT, and the entire ensemble should at least have their names mentioned (good, bad or indifferent).

And I am not just bringing this writer "up on charges." Countless other MILWAUKEE writers and (in theory) reviewers fail to mention the acting ensemble or any technical staff, unless it is at one of the 3 big theatres. And where are the editors? They share responsibility for allowing writers to fail in their journalistic duties. If one didn't enjoy the contributions of a major player, don't fail to mention them. Simply state with critical veracity and some amount of artistic acumen WHY you (as the reviewer) felt their contribution was somehow lacking. Not mentioning performers in leading roles only demonstrates that possibly the writers may not truly or fully understand acting, directing or actually producing a performance, having never in their lifetime stuck any of their own money in an actual production.

I could write more (and maybe ONMILWAUKEE should hire me!), but either the reader is grooving on my message or they have already tuned out long ago.

HEY!> It's absolutely FANTASTIC that ONMILWAUKEE actually writes about theatre. They don't have to, and they could use the space for advertising or more articles about the things that Milwaukeeans actually will support (liquor, bars, porn, guns, Brewers, Packers, gossip and scandal). But the ONMILWAUKEE editors do schedule space and staff energies (which equals $$$) to cover the arts. THANK you, ONMILWAUKEE.COM.

But when I read half a review of a really fine production, and if there is the "YOUR OPINION" button, just like Pandora's older, grayer uncle, I just have to push that button. Hey, maybe some of it got edited out---who knows? I wasn't there when this article was handed in and the final "edition" went to cyber print. So, my apologies if material ended up on the cutting room floor.

Thanks for reading. I feel confident that no wrath will be visited upon my head for sharing my opinion (as a loyal reader of ONMILWAUKEE and as a "citizen") in what is still (partially) a free country. And if it is? Well, Does anyone want to buy a theatre in Bay View? Would make a good location for a bar, cafe, restaurant or you can return it to an adult bookstore!

Sincerely and with good wishes.

Mark Bucher

(DISCLOSURE: Mark Bucher founded the Boulevard Theatre in Bay View in 1985. It is currently staging JERKER from September 18 through the 22nd at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center at 1110 North Market Street. Visit the Boulevard website for more information at www.boulevardtheatre.com.)

(DISCLOSURE, PART II: Mr. Bucher has had many pleasant conversations with Mr. Begel as well as more than a few cyber differing of opinions, so to speak. He has seen Mr. Begel perform with the former MILWAUKEE SHAKES, as well as WINDFALL THEATRE. Mr. Bucher did not review those productions, but if he had? ~ he would definitely have included Mr. Begel in those reviews.)



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