Posted at TimesofSanDiego.com on 10/7/15
RUN DATES: 10/1/15 – 11/1/15
VENUE: The Old Globe
Some people go through life at a trot or a canter. Others forge ahead at “Full Gallop.”
Diana Vreeland may have considered herself, “born lazy,” but she was an indefatigable devotee of beauty, class and style – who changed American taste in clothing, art and life.
“The Empress of Fashion” served for 26 years as the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and then, starting in 1963, was the editor-in-chief at Vogue.
When we meet her, in the play, “Full Gallop,” it’s 1971, she’s a 68 year-old widow, just returned from four months abroad, after having been summarily dismissed from Vogue. She’s trying to lick her wounds, avoid phonecalls, plan a dinner party, stash away an ever-increasing stack of unpaid bills, fend off job offers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and ignore the nasty piece about her in the New York Post, all while declaiming about color (“Red is the great clarifier; it makes all other colors beautiful”) and designers (“Balenciaga was the greatest dressmaker who ever lived”) and myriad other subjects, both personal and professional.
She’s delightful company, in this 110-minute play created by Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson,” who performed the world premiere at The Old Globe in 1995. This time, it’s Oscar and Tony Award winner Mercedes Ruehl in the red setee, under the direction of Andrew Russell.
She’s marvelous, with her New York accent (Vreeland was born in Paris but spent most of her life in the Big Apple), her multi-lingual agility, ready pronouncements and dismissals and interminable name-dropping.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that many theatergoers under age 60 will know who Vreeland was, let alone the designers (Schiaparelli et al.) and other heavy-hitters (talent agent/dealmaker Swifty Lazar, anyone?) whose monikers she casually dsipenses.
The look of the production is stunning. “I want this room in flames!,” Vreeland exclaims, and so it is, with its flower-filled, all-red decor, red velvet bunting and the general sense of a cross between a brothel, a chichi antique shop and an opium den (scenic design by the redoubtable Sean Fanning). She herself wanted it to replicate “a garden from hell.” The lighting (Robert J. Aguilar) is red-tinged as well, contrasting with the sleek, stark black on the raven-wigged star (costumes by Mark Mitchell).
If you’re a fashionista, or if fashion mavens and magazines are your thing, Ruehl as Vreeland will offer you many delectable tidbits in her deliciously eccentric style. The “oracle of style” did go on to become special consultant at The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum, where she mounted numerous, groundbreaking exhibitions. There was a documentary about her (“Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel,” 2012), but this charming stage play does as much as anything else to keep her name, memory and influence vibrant and alive.
©2015 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews