Diana Vreeland was an American fashion icon for more than 50 years. As a columnist and fashion editor for Harper's Bazaar and then editor for Vogue, the undisputed fashion bible of the era, Vreeland influenced styles, set trends and ran with a very famous crowd (she "discovered" Lauren Bacall, advised Jacqueline Kennedy, and was an early champion of Diane von Furstenberg, Manolo Blahnik and Oscar de la Renta).
She was also witty, tough, passionate, opinionated and difficult to work with.
She was 70 when she was eventually fired from Vogue, and that's where playwrights Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson's comedy Full Gallop picks up. Vreeland, played by Sally Edmundson in this Stages Repertory Theatre production, arranges for an impromptu dinner party, inviting several friends and allies. Also on the guest list is one especially wealthy acquaintance that Vreeland hopes will fund her new venture -- a magazine of her own. The barbs fly as Vreeland plans the next stage of her career.
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This is the third time Stages has mounted Full Gallop and the third time actor Sally Edmundson portrays the wry, sometimes acerbic Vreeland. Stages Producing Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin, who directs this production, admits there are important differences between Vreeland, the woman, and Vreeland, the larger-than-life persona commonly remembered.
"She lived a life that was beholden to no opinion - she simply did what she believed in," McLaughlin tells us. "It is this passion and clarity that make her a superstar to so many, this kind of conviction is a quality so many of us wish we had from head to toe. Beyond all the mythology, and there is a lot of it - she was not at all rich or beautiful and she is often remembered as impossible to work with - the thing that holds and will hold forever is her conviction. She [was] a woman who [knew] exactly who she [was], exactly what she [wanted] and she [pursued] her goals with unbreakable passion. And, she was so very, very witty, remarkably so."
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McLaughlin says the Vreeland will see in this production is different from previous incarnations. Not only is Edmundson closer in age to her character now than than when she began playing it 15 years ago, which McLaughlin says has clearly informed Edmundson's performance, Vreeland is more caustic and abrupt.
"Sally [had] sought to be a bit charming in the role [before]," says McLaughlin. "As director, I really didn't encourage her to be charming at all. The word is never used in conjunction with Vreeland; if anything, she was a terror to staff and many others. Her own children identify her as a difficult person to be around."
Edmundson and McLaughlin worked together to bring tough veneer more forward and the result, McLaughlin says, is far more mesmerizing and far more powerful. "She doesn't seek to be liked, she could care less. But she does seek to be respected and to be heard, we all do, and the way she does that is to be honest, forthright and clear but not intentionally charming or seductive."
See Full Gallop at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. August 6 through September 14. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $19 to $65.