Academy, Golden Globe and tony Award winner Mercedes Ruehl joins The Old Globe Theatre to tell the story of fashionista Diana Vreeland in “Full Gallop,” on stage through Oct. 25.
The Globe premiere of the play in 1995 starred Mary Louise Wilson, and was written by Mark Hampton and Wilson, based on Vreeland’s memoirs.
Ruehl is noted for her voluminous career in films, plays and TV. She earned an Academy and Golden Globe Award for “The Fisher King.” She earned a Tony Award for Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers,” slowed down her career to raise her son, but is now ready to take on the one-woman show about this famous icon.
“I saw mary Louise Wilson do it off-Broadway and was so taken with it I went back to see it two more times,” Ruehl said. “The character of Diana Vreeland stayed in my mind. A few years ago, I was working with a new manager who mentioned Vreeland. About that time, a wonderful documentary made by her granddaughter came out. Meanwhile, my manager sent me every book, film, whatever about Diana because he was so sure this is what I should do. So a year and a half ago, he and (Globe Artistic director) Barry Edelstein started talking and soon I was out here rehearsing.”
Ruehl did a one-woman show before about art collector, bohemian and socialite Peggy Guggenheim, so she understands the work involved. “I know what I’m up against and the ultimate loneliness of it,” Ruehl said. “I’m trying to see out of her; to me she’s a fascinating creature.
“She was kind of a genius. She had a totally unique relationship with the English language. She didn’t have a good upbringing and retreated into her imagination and found a world of wonder. She re-created herself, ravishing on her own terms, the way she spoke, the outfits she made and wore, and how she changed her home. She became the “It” girl among her contemporaries by the time she was 17. She married, they moved to europe, and she totally blossomed there in the fashion world.”
“Full Gallop” covers much of Vreeland’s life, including her love of deep, rich red in her clothes, home décor, fashions and her career at Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Director Andrew Russell is making his Globe debut thanks to Ruehl working with him on the chamber piece “Occupant.”
“Andrew’s job was to walk me through several streets in New York where I could get a taxi to go home,” Ruehl said. “Every night we would talk about my performance. I would ask him his opinions, and he was very bright and insightful. So a year ago I tracked him down and asked him to consider directing me in this piece. I had also worked with the wonderful stage manager Brian Meister, and I asked him to be the stage manager and assistant director on this play. When you do something solitary, as a one-person show, you just want to have faith in the team that is behind you and supports you.”
Ruehl met Edelstein for the first time and called him “a breath of fresh air.”
“I’ve known a lot of artistic directors in my day,” she said. “He’s such a nice, regular guy with a first-class encyclopedic mind. After one rehearsal, he gave the most cogent notes. He’s put together an extraordinary theater that is amazing.”
Edelstein said “Full Gallop” has currents of emotion, humanity, and entertainment, and Ruehl agrees.
“I’m not sure who said it, but I came upon this saying, ‘Art and drama should entertain and instruct. In the theater, you can just instruct, and they will leave in droves. You can entertain, and they will stay. If you can entertain and instruct, it’s gold.’
“It will be my effort every night to entertain,” Ruehl promised.
■ IF YOU GO: “Full Gallop,” plays Sept. 26-Oct. 25 at the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $29. (619) 234-5623. theoldglobe.org