"Grey Gardens" comes home. The good news: Bay Street's East End premiere features the best Edie troika this critic has seen. We're not saying Rachel York outdoes Tony-winning Christine Ebersole or that Betty Buckley outshines Mary Louise Wilson's Broadway performance. Tipping the scales in favor of Bay Street's production, unevenly directed by Michael Wilson, is Sarah Hunt as young, engagement-radiant Edie.
Little Edie has never been more viscerally realized. Hunt plows the emotional field for York, who plays Edie's monstrous mom, Edith Bouvier Beale, in Act I, and plants the seeds of sympathy for York's portrayal of Little Edie 32 years later in Act II.
The Edies were aunt and cousin to Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier, sisters and future first lady and princess (Gracie Beardsley and Dakota Quackenbush). Elder Edie's husband abandoned his family at the worst time. Never having to fend for themselves before, the Edies fell into such a state of squalor that Suffolk County health authorities sought to condemn their once stately home, famously documented in the Maysles brothers' film 40 years ago.
York as Big and Little Edie in their 40s and 50s, respectively, rose above opening night microphone malfunctions during her transformative "Revolutionary Costume for Today" number. Her finale, "Another Summer in a Winter Town," is a dramatic gem. Both Edie portrayals are riveting.
As septuagenarian Big Edie, Buckley delivers a full-throated "The Cake I Had" and a tender "Jerry Likes My Corn," prefacing her dance with the slacker who drops by occasionally. Buckley has us forgiving Big Edie's selfishness. Matt Doyle ably doubles as Jerry and the doomed war hero with a Boston accent, Joseph Kennedy Jr. (Yes, that Joe Kennedy.) Simon Jones as Major Bouvier is the stern voice of reason on "Marry Well." James Harkness as the servant sturdily embodies past Bouvier status.
The bad news: Howard McGillin as Gould, Big Edie's gay pianist, fails the credibility test by not playing the piano. However skilled an actor, McGillin cannot overcome the handicap of allowing the notes to emanate from pianist William Waldrop's balcony perch with the band. Further distracting our focus is Jeff Cowie's set, which, while reproducing a Hamptons mansion interior, strains sightlines. Some scenes are literally a pain in the neck.
Still, what can be seen is worth the price of admission.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday, 7 p.m. Tuesday, through Aug. 30, Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
TICKETS $59-$85; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org