ADDISON It makes sense that a play about legendary fashion editor and tastemaker Diana Vreeland is about, well, Diana Vreeland. Not in a biographical way, but in one that allows for a collection of all-about-me quotes to shed light on a woman who never met a fabulous royal, artist or designer whose name she couldn’t drop.
That’s Full Gallop, a two-decade-old one-woman play by Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson, who first played the role. It is being revived as a second-stage production by WaterTower Theatre, directed by Terry Martin and starring the divine Diana Sheehan.
Actually, there are other roles, heard but not seen, although curiously only one, Vreeland’s maid Yvonne, is credited here (Ellen Locy in a pre-recorded performance).
Vreeland, who was editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and unceremoniously let go from the latter position, was known for being infinitely entertaining as a party hostess, the kind of person anyone who is decidedly unfabulous would find insufferable. But she had little interest in being or knowing the unfabulous or uninteresting.
Quoting Joan Crawford, she says, “If you want the girl next door, go next door.”
As written and performed, Vreeland is the fashion doyenne that Project Runway’s Nina Garcia wishes she could be in terms of the naturalness with which bon mots freely flow. (And Garcia consistently has the best one-liners on that fashion competition reality show.)
Throughout the 110-minute performance, Vreeland references — OK, outright name-drops — the likes of Cristobal Balenciaga, Josephine Baker, Sergei Diaghilev, Cyd Charisse, the Duke of Windsor, Coco Chanel and a host of others.
She takes us through those tortuous days after being dropped from Vogue, when she traveled the South of France and stayed in a Madrid hotel next to the Prado. Not to play a game of “remember when” — she loathes nostalgia and adores excess — but to keep us up to date on her happenings.
Before you start diagnosing her with a clinical case of narcissism, there are moments in this play when she becomes more relatable, such as when speaking of her late husband, Reed.
Sheehan, a singer and actress, is one of those fabulously talented people whom Vreeland would have loved. As she segues — OK, outright leaps — from one thought to the next, rhapsodizing over the style of Parisians, the importance of being unique or the gift of blue jeans (“the greatest invention since the gondola”), Sheehan keeps us fascinated with this woman who wouldn’t know how to be anything but over-the-top.
Whether seated on the sofa with a cigarette holder or rearranging the flowers in her famously red apartment (marvelous set and props/set dressing by Martin), you can see the gears of her mind always moving.
Full Gallop may not be as deeply plumbing or revelatory as you hope for in a stage biography; but as an ode to art, literature and, of course, fashion, it offers a level of psychology that’s more than satisfying. That’s who this woman was, after all. Plus, with Sheehan in command, it’s wildly entertaining.
As Vreeland says, “Give them what they never knew they wanted.”