When Mercedes Ruehl assumes the persona of fashion icon Diana Vreeland (Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue) in The Old Globe’s “Full Gallop,” you sit up straight and adjust your ascot. This one-woman tour-de-force is onstage through Oct. 25 in Balboa Park and arbiters of style won’t want to miss it.
Ruehl is quite at home on the set in Vreeland’s very, very, very riche-red New York apartment in August 1971, and her every word is Vreeland from her glory days to her grumpy recollections (cold-fired as editor of Vogue magazine at age 70) to the hint of a third career, post retirement as special consultant to The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Vreeland breezes into the room with a commanding energy as she talks directly to the audience about the guests she has coming for dinner and her just-returned-from trip to Europe.
In between giving orders to her assistant in the kitchen via an intercom about the night’s festivities, she lets us know she’s still in charge, post-firing — even though she’s short on cash, seems to be entreating guests to come by, and can’t remember what’s his name …
She compellingly reveals and recounts her habits, adventures, business decisions, discourses on color and style, and offers reflections about family, friends and rivals.
Quite the namedropper, Vreeland relives her life through this ongoing evening as she deals with kitchen help and phone calls from her expected guests. Her nonchalant way of telling these stories is as quick as throwing a dart on a dartboard, and she earns chuckles from the audience over the conclusions she draws. Included are discerning moments when she picks up The New York Post to peruse a negative article about herself. She reads a few words, throws a fit and tosses the paper away, only later to repeat the same actions … could it be true as the paper infers, that she is a has-been?
Academy, Golden Globe and Tony Award winner Mercedes Ruehl (“The Fisher King,” “Married to the Mob,” “Lost in Yonkers,” etc.) misses nothing in her amazing performance. She had to learn an enormous amount of dialogue for this show, and not to have another character to play it off for 90 minutes is challenging indeed. Her physicality, moments of passion, reactions to conundrums, and ability to laugh — even when reflecting on tough times — solidifies her performance. She truly earns her standing ovations. “Full Gallop” written by Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson and directed by Andrew Russell, lets us know more about Diana Vreeland, but much more about Mercedes Ruehl and her talents.
• Editor’s Note: In 1984, Vreeland wrote her autobiography, “D.V.” In 1989, she died of a heart attack at age 85 at Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City.