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Wright, Doug (b. 1962)    
 
page: 1  2  3  4  

Both the film and the musical chronicle the lives of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (known as "Big Edie") and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie"), the aunt and cousin, respectively, of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and their descent into squalor and neglect.

Frankel approached Wright about collaborating on the musical, but Wright was initially skeptical. He thought the documentary would prove impossible to adapt for the stage. "It's so nonlinear," the playwright explained. "It's edited within an inch of its life with a psychological logic, not a narrative. There's no story."

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Also, the Beales, especially Little Edie, had become gay icons since the film's release, and Wright thought it was crucial "to do something that honored the women's pathos as much as their humor."

He described Little Edie as "perversely courageous," and believed "her best defense was an unerring sense of style and a caustic wit. I think that's where gay men find their own defenses. Edie's the patron saint of all those qualities."

Wright eventually agreed to work with Frankel and Korie on the musical and all three men decided their narrative should not begin as the documentary did, when the squalor and decay of the Beale's family estate, known as "Grey Gardens," had already set in.

Instead, the three collaborators thought it would be more interesting to go back in time and discover how these once-fashionable women had fallen into such decrepitude.

"We started to do research," Wright said. "We learned Big Edie was a flamboyant showoff. She'd been divorced by telegram. Little Edie's engagement to Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. was broken off under mysterious circumstances. I thought, 'What if this all occurred on one momentous day?'"

He, therefore, set the first act of the musical in the past, when the estate is at its most lustrous, Big Edie is in her most elegant and charming prime, and Little Edie is about to announce her enviable engagement to the much sought-after Joseph Kennedy, Jr.

In the second act, set within the actual period of the documentary, with some of the film's actual lines replicated in the show's dialogue and song lyrics, the two women have now become recluses, sharing a flinty, although quick-witted, affection, and living together in the crumbling, neglected estate that has become infested with raccoons, cats, and fleas.

Grey Gardens opened off-Broadway in March 2006 and was transferred to Broadway in November that same year. It received mainly positive reviews.

David Rooney, in the trade publication Variety, wrote that "In less adventurous hands, Grey Gardens might merely have been a quirky musical about crazy cat ladies. . . . But Wright and his collaborators . . . have taken their cue from the Maysles brothers in portraying their multifaceted subjects with depth and dignity. Their show is a haunting account of lives derailed, a textured depiction of the warring, often simultaneous desires to wound and heal that characterize mother-daughter relationships, and a witty celebration of two defiantly maverick personalities."

Wright himself has said that, "despite all the baroque trappings," Grey Gardens is "a universal story about parents and children. Our parents are the ones who both wound us and administer the bandages."

Grey Gardens was nominated for the 2007 Tony Award for Best Musical. Wright was also nominated for both a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.

Wright's next project was again a musical, this time adapting the family-friendly Disney film The Little Mermaid for Broadway (music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater).

The 1989 animated Disney feature was based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen about Ariel, the title character, who strikes a deal with Ursula the Sea Witch to transform her mermaid tail into human legs so that she can pursue the handsome Prince Eric on land.

Friends and colleagues were initially surprised that Wright would want to work on such a conventional project, but Wright said he actively lobbied for the job. "The quintessential outsider," he explained, "is Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid." "Besides," he continued, "Ursula the Sea Witch could give the Marquis de Sade a run for his money."

The Little Mermaid opened on Broadway in January 2008 to mixed reviews. The show closed, after playing some 685 performances, in August 2009.

Wrights other works include Watbanaland (1995) and three one-act plays collected under the title Unwrap Your Candy (2006).

His most recent credits include an adaptation of the Swedish playwright August Strindberg's 1888 play Creditors, which Wright also directed at the La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego in 2009, and a musical adaptation, with Amanda Green, of the 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body, which chronicles an East Texas endurance contest in order to win a new pickup truck.

Wright is a member of the Dramatists Guild and serves on the board of New York Theatre Workshop. He is a recipient of the William L. Bradley Fellowship at Yale University, the Charles MacArthur Fellowship at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, and the Alfred Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University.

He currently lives in New York City with his partner, the singer-songwriter David Clement.

Craig Kaczorowski

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literature >> Overview:  Musical Theater

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literature >> Andersen, Hans Christian

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arts >> Ashman, Howard

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    Bibliography
   

Gussow, Mel. "A Serial Killer With a Grudge Against Performers." New York Times (August 21, 1989): C12.

McGrath, Charles. "The Cat Ladies Sing." New York Times (March 5, 2006): C1.

Raymond, Gerard. "Reviving the Marquis de Sade." The Advocate (December 19, 2000): 58.

_____. "Welcome to Berlin: Author Doug Wright Tells How a Memorable Meeting with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf Led to the Creation of the Bioplay I Am My Own Wife." TheaterMania (November 28, 2003): http://www.theatermania.com/content/news.cfm?int_news_id=4099

Rooney, David. "Grey Gardens." Variety (November 3, 2006): 65.

Schneider, Jeffrey. "Wright, Doug." The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama. Gabrielle H. Cody and Evert Sprinchorn, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Simon, John. "From Feeling to Fooling." New York (August 28, 1989): 57.

Weber, Bruce. "Inventing Her Life As She Goes Along." New York Times (December 4, 2003): C3.

Whitley, Glenna. "Feel My Rage." The Dallas Observer (November 16, 2006): 26.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Wright, Doug  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2011  
    Date Last Updated November 14, 2011  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/wright_doug.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2011 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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