FULL GALLOP-theatre review

The Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) opened its first play of 2011 at The Adele Grage Cultural Center, 716 Ocean Blvd, in Atlantic Beach with Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson’s Full Gallop. It will be on stage until February 5th. Call 249-7177 or visit www.abettheatre.com for reservations and additional information.
If you want to start your theatre journey for 2011 with something new and exciting, then by all means see this comedy/drama, a one-woman show, at ABET. The play, which won Drama Desk and Obie awards, is the story of Diana Vreeland, who was considered the authority on elegance and style in fashion during the last century. She was the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar for 25 years and then Chief Editor of Vogue for several more. She finished her career at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. She was a valued fashion adviser to many famous women, including Jackie Kennedy.
You are in for a surprise when you see this show. Vreeland had a passion for living and a unique way of sharing her experiences and perceptions that was humorous, refreshing, and endearing. As performed by Peg Paschal, the show, which is a little over two hours including intermission, is totally mesmerizing. As the male half of this writing team, I was a skeptic, since I can’t say I have ever picked up a fashion magazine to read, which was probably true for most men in the audience.
The show does talk about fashion, but is more a story of her life in retrospect, starting in 1971, when she was almost seventy, and had just been fired from Vogue. She talks about colors for a short time in a most fascinating, well let’s say a most colorful, way.
Vreeland was born in Paris, and mainly studied dancing as a formal education. She spent hours and hours at Paris fashion houses and loved shopping and looking at clothing even though she might not have been buying anything. The American banker she married was handsome, but not wealthy. Husband Reed was an impeccable dresser, and even ironed his SHOE LACES before putting them in his shoes. They had two children and remained happily married until his death in 1966. When her husband was transferred from London to New York, she began her career out of necessity. Life in New York was expensive and her husband’s salary didn’t go far enough.
Ms. Paschal is Vreeland, as she inhabits the stage, dressed in a tasteful black jersey pantsuit, with attention-getting gold jewelry. Vreeland is preparing for a dinner party, and we see her talking to her maid (who is offstage) and frequently calling guests on the phone, all the while entertaining us with witty stories. Vreeland is very quotable. For example, she said “The bikini is the most important invention since the atom bomb” and “Never Fear being vulgar, just boring.” She once met Hitler, and her description of him was hilarious. She dropped a number of names of wealthy and fashionable people, personages we’ve never heard of, but she made them interesting. For example, she mentioned one very wealthy Londoner, who had four baby gorillas as pets. The British government required that exotic animals have monthly inoculations so this gentleman had his chauffeur take them for the shots, dressed in top hats and tailored overcoats, in a special Rolls Royce.
The set is worth the price of admission. Designer Jen Fortune has used red walls, bold modern paintings and a zebra-patterned rug to re-create Vreeland’s famous living room. Period details and a view of the New York skyline complete the illusion. Bryan Frank did the lighting and sound design, while Pam Larson kept things moving smoothly as the Stage Manager.
Judy Hulett, working with Ms. Paschal for a second time, did a marvelous job at directing. Last year the two worked together in the musical The Act, a story about Lisa Minnelli. If Ms. Hulett’s name sounds familiar, she was one of the co-founders of Youth of the Beaches Art Guild (YBAG) and was involved as one of the movers and shakers of that group for many years.
Peg Paschal is probably a name you know as well, especially if you go to theatre in the beaches area. Peg has appeared in many of the musicals at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre as a singer and dancer. She teaches tap dancing at the beach and performs her cabaret act at different locales including the Jekyll Island Club. Peg has expanded her talents into the field of art and you will have the opportunity to see a number of her paintings on display at the theatre during the run of the show.
If you are an actor and have aspirations of doing a one-person show sometime in your life, you will find Full Gallop inspiring. Ms. Paschal gives a masterful performance.