KPBS AIRDATE: January 18, 1995
She’s not in the living room when we enter. But almost instantly, we hear her voice booming through the slightly open red door, and then, there she is. Diana Vreeland, cultural icon and American fashion doyenne for a half-century.
“Full Gallop” is kind of like a privilege. It’s an honor, a real kick to get this close to someone so expansive, so expressive, so exuberant. She doesn’t just talk; she expounds. She exclaims. She makes wonderfully outrageous pronouncements, on people and things, from chutney to Hitler’s mustache, from Valazquez to the blue of the Duke of Windsor’s eyes.
She hobnobbed with everyone who was anyone, from the 1920’s to the 1980s, and we vicariously get it all. It’s not just a 90-minute monologue. Vreeland talks on the phone, coaxes and cajoles her servants over the intercom, but mostly she converses with us, her houseguests, in a very chatty, familiar, intimate way. As if we know all these folks she goes on about. As if we really care about every detail of her recollections. And we do.
She’s in the midst of preparing for a dinner party; everything is ready, the room is filled with flowers (“Excess!!” she bellows. “I’m a great believer in vulgarity”). But there’s no food, and no cash on hand to pay for it. She is spoiled rotten, you can see, and also quite distraught. She’s just gotten fired from her job as Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. It’s the mid-seventies, and she’s well into her sixties, if not beyond; nobody really knows.
After a decade at Vogue and almost three decades at Harper’s Bazaar, she’s being put out to pasture. The only reason she ever worked was for money, she says. People are now pushing her to take a job heading up the musty Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Why is everybody trying to put me in a museum?” she loudly laments. But over the course of the evening, as she reads about her firing in the New York Post, and displaces her tears to her grandson’s head-shaving, and realizes, as a flamboyant widow, she’s out of funds, we see her come around, and take on the job just as she does everything else — at full gallop. In a short time, we watch the character evolve, and we witness how a senior citizen can re-invent herself, can take on a new challenge and knock ‘em dead, as she did for 14 years at the Costume Institute.
It’s an inspirational story for nineties women. And it’s a tour-de-force performance by Mary Louise Wilson, who also co-wrote the script. She inhabits this character, she make us hang on her every word. The piece is very well crafted; the original/personal additions are linked beautifully to Vreeland’s actual words. But the play should be performed without an intermission, as the program says. We don’t need the break. Otherwise, Nick Martin’s direction is flawless, as are the signature chintz set-pieces. This is a knockout evening, a tremendous performance, and an unforgettable visit with someone you wish you really knew.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.