Wednesday, September 15, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 17

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About the Cougar

One-woman play goes into Full Gallop at Stages

By Emily Gillispie
Daily Cougar Staff 

 Engulfed in a world of high fashion and exorbitant luxury, the unpredictable and eccentric Diana Vreeland seems to have it all. As editor in chief of Vogue magazine for nearly 10 years, she has propelled the world of fashion (and Vogue's place in it) to unexpected proportions. She's determined and straightforward -- but in 1971, her life takes an abrupt turn.

 The 21st season of Stages Repertory Theatre begins with Vreeland's story in the Houston premiere of the off-Broadway hit Full Gallop. The one-woman play focuses on true-life fashion guru Vreeland shortly after she is fired from legendary fashion magazine Vogue in 1971.

 The high-society comedic monologue takes the audience down Vreeland's own memory lane, which is lined with stories about shopping, traveling and the social elite.

 The play, set in Vreeland's gaudy New York apartment, is divided into two acts. The flamboyant and often times annoying Vreeland, played by veteran actress Sally Edmundson, walks the audience through her last days at Vogue.

 Surrounded by red walls, springtime flowers and animal-print rugs, Vreeland then describes her life after the magazine, including a four-month trip to Europe and a wonderful visit to Paris. Her stories are endless. She rambles on about her simple tastes, which include lettuce and chutney, although she is not sure whether lettuce is a food.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett

Sally Edmundson stars as fashion maven Diana Vreeland in Full Gallop, a one-woman play showing at Stages Repertory Theatre through Oct. 3.

Between phone calls and chats with her maid Yvonne, played offstage by Nathalie Cunningham, Vreeland flips through the most recent gossip in the New York Post even though she swears she never reads that "rag." She then receives a call from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which wants her to work for them. Vreeland, stubborn yet unpredictable, makes no commitments but says she will call the museum later.

 Edmundson does a remarkable job of portraying the long-winded Vreeland. Being the only actor on stage throughout the entire 80-minute play might have been too strenuous for a lesser actress, but Edmundson's lines are clearly spoken with an air of authenticity and affection. It is almost as if Vreeland's spirit came back to do some coaching.

 However, even quality acting cannot make up for the lack of a strong plot or any sort of scene changes. The basic premise behind the play is Vreeland's job loss and her quest to put together a dinner party in search of a new venture.
 Mingled throughout this "plot" are Vreeland's personal anecdotes. She exclaims that her favorite place in England was Paris, and that in New York there is no leisure. She says she loved shopping in Paris, but in New York there is no one to help you.

 The stories take a more serious turn when Vreeland recalls her late husband, who died of cancer. It is only then that she stops talking -- but, of course, not for long.
 The second act is filled with more of the same. Vreeland is still unable to get anyone together for the dinner party, and major doubt exists as to whether or not there will even be any food.

 She's still sneaking peaks at the Post and quotes that proclaim Vreeland is washed up and that her "era is over." This doesn't slow her down, though. One has to admire her for galloping ahead like that, but wishes she wasn't so annoying while she did it.

 The supposedly comic devices throughout the play don't help. For example, a way Vreeland distracts herself from the negativity of the newspaper is to continually mess with a covered chair. She first stares at it from across the room, then yells, "What is wrong with that damn chair!" The piece becomes a running joke throughout the play.

 But Vreeland's excess can be amusing. She describes her love for all colors, especially red, which is clarifying and revealing. She just can't be "bored of it." Who would've guessed? Black is the hardest color to get right, she says -- but she's draped in a black shirt and pants.

 However, other aspects of her appearance come across as odd. She wears dark blusher that reaches up onto her ears. One has to suppose Vreeland is so wrapped up in the world around her that she fails to notice her own gaudiness -- or maybe she really thinks it looks good.

 And the bone she wears in her hair looks like it was ripped from the head of a saber-tooth tiger. It is just another example of Vreeland's excessive fashion sense.
 Vreeland was an eccentric and gaudy fashion guru who shaped the world of fashion without really knowing it. Edmundson's portrayal of a 68-year-old woman's quest for glamour takes the audience through a ride of exuberant flashbacks and useless tears. 
 Vreeland is portrayed as flashy, but at times rather ditzy. Did she really walk through life unaware of her influence? The way she is portrayed in Full Gallop, it wouldn't be surprising.

 Full Gallop runs through Oct. 3 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. Tickets are $26 to $37. Those under 25 pay only $10 for all performances.
 Call (713) 52-STAGES for more information.

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