She?s So Unusual: Jeffrey Johnson captures Edith Bouvier Beale?s every eccentricity.

The appeal of Grey Gardens, the Maysles Brothers’ 1976 portrait of Jackie O’s oddball, squalor-wallowing aunt and cousin, has always been a voyeuristic one. We watch the documentary so hungrily for the same reasons we consume viral videos of the worst American Idol auditions or the trials of Britney Spears. So the patrons who turned up in January 1978 at the New York nightclub Reno Sweeney, eagerly parting with the $7.50 that would admit them into the presence of Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, weren’t really expecting their swan to sing. They were there to get a close look at their beloved cat-feeding, fashion-criminal, cultishly-famous eccentric and to wager on how early and how often her cabaret debut would go off the rails. And so Ganymede Arts’ re-creation of the evening has an inescapable whiff about it, even if those behind it had nothing unkind in mind. Certainly Jeffrey Johnson, the actor-director and drag wonder sometimes known as Special Agent Galactica, means no harm. Johnson’s Little Edie is a fond enough portrait, both tragically grand and gratifyingly eager to please. She’s having a good time, Johnson’s eyes keep telling us, just before Little Edie goes off on one of her nervously insistent rants about the men she never wanted to marry (Never wanted them, you hear?). What’s palpable is how much longing there was in her life, and that part of After the Garden, at least, is rather touching. Less charitable is how often the evening exposes that raw nerve, how frequently Garden’s Little Edie returns to the topic of her pains when her passions are every bit as entertainingly baroque. And what’s downright grotesque is how many times Gerald Duval’s script has his heroine praise…Gerald Duval. As the impresario who helped engineer her Reno Sweeney gig, he may indeed have been indispensable to her at the time (though her partisans are divided on this point), and the notoriously effusive Little Edie may well have celebrated him as often as she does in this script. But as playwright and co-producer of After the Garden, Duval has a luxury that was seemingly inaccessible to dear, filterless Little Edie: the ability to choose his words, and hers, with care. He’d have done better to indulge it.