‘Full Gallop’ at Stages

11 Aug



I hate fashion. I don’t like publishing elites. And hell, I don’t even love New York, despite a few gazillion dollars spent to make me. So I would seem an unlikely cheerleader for the play called Full Gallop, setting forth the acerbic wit and cynical wisdom of late New York trendsetting socialite Diana Vreeland, she of Harper’s Bazaar and especially of Vogue.

Still, the mostly one-woman show that opened last night at Stages is one of those rare theatrical epiphanies – when an actor so completely inhabits a role that, even if you’ve never seen more than still photos of Vreeland, you utterly believe you’re now watching her in action. Much the same thing happened with Hal Holbrook as a very old Mark Twain, whom he started playing as a very young actor. He was still the same old wonderful Twain, Holbrook let on to me backstage after one late-model performance – except he needed less and less makeup to look old.

There are parallels. Sally Edmundson first performed Full Gallop at Stages 15 years ago. Though I didn’t see the show then, I’m told by those who did that the portrayal is richer now, more knowing and, in some ways, more sympathetic. She probably always nailed the physical particulars, starting with the signature mound of black hair, the endless drinking and smoking and, of course, talking dirt about other people. But it seems that something about Vreeland’s soul is onstage now that probably wasn’t there before, something more about how it feels to look out over the world from a very high, powerful place and then, suddenly, to not.

That is the basic plot of Full Gallop by Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson – or what I call, in any one-person show – the excuse. In other words, why is this person bothering to say all these things? The single evening catches Vreeland in 1971, five years after her beloved husband’s death to cancer and some time after her dismissal as editor from Vogue. She actually has very little to stand on, plus what she considers not a lot of money to do it with. She makes and receives phone calls all evening long, from prominent people in New York and on the West Coast, each time finding just the right way to reassure them that she still is a force. The conversations are hilarious, as even more so are her bitchy asides (to the audience) after hanging up. Also laugh-worthy is Vreeland’s ongoing intercom exchange about domestic matters with a French maid we hear but never see. Delightfully, the maid is played by Edmundson’s own daughter Maria, who happens to hold a BA in French.

Directed by Stages artistic director Kenn McLaughlin with a lovely Park Avenue set by Jodi Bobvrosky, lighting by Clint Allen and costumes (well, one costume) by Nara Lesser, Full Gallop is a funny, rich, complex, engaging and surprisingly touching evening of theater.

Photo: Sally Edmundson as Diana Vreeland, by Bruce Bennett


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