Vreeland: The Artful Dowager

In Triangle's "Full Gallop," Margie Boulé plays fashion and publishing legend Diana Vreeland as a singular force of nature

About 24 hours ago Kate Moss, the long-legged and controversially thin model who pricked the ribs of ’90s feminism, announced she’s started a modeling agency: “not for pretty people.”

Only hours before, Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute curator, was given a page in Vogue for a passé event in fashion time, this year’s Manus x Machina gala, the $25,000 per person event held this year all the way back in May to fundraise and promote the trickle-down philanthropy at our nation’s best museum.

This is not just the opinion of the critic writing it. In America the stewards of art – fine, moving, sometimes with a skilled ensemble cast – have the undesirable day job. In the Europe that Diana Vreeland was hungry for, she saw that the future of fashion and art had a foundation: funded and available.

In hyper-time and internet space, Vreeland is alive, well, and holding the bar in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and places from Fifth Avenue to the playgrounds of Europe where she made her mark, and from which she was sometimes fired. She’s been dead for almost 20 years, but still is making headlines in a time she would’ve loved, mastered, and embraced with childlike splendor: the rapid-fire information age of the internet. The poetic incantations of her “Why Don’t You” columns would be suitably shared on Twitter and Instagram. God knows, she’d have a monumental Pinterest account.

Boulé as Vreeland in her implausible Manhattan apartment. Triangle Productions photo.

Boulé as Vreeland in her implausible Manhattan apartment. Triangle Productions photo.

One of the best attributes of Triangle Productions – where Full Gallop, Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson’s play about Vreeland at a time when she’s been fired by Vogue and is angling for a bankroll to start a new magazine – is that with each performance you can see and feel the care that producer and director Don Horn invests in each staging. Vreeland, besides her eccentric temper, was known for her living room: a small space with some of the best of views in Manhattan. She asked that it be decorated as “a garden; a garden from hell.” Moving from the village green of England, it could be a psychological slip into the concrete gates on an island: maybe she didn’t want to take Manhattan, as the song suggests. Her small living room was impossible to photograph. It was draped in layers upon layers of red, patterns, flowers, and significant objects both cheap and expensive. It was, as someone once noted, a map of her mind. She decried as middle-class and without personal freedom or aesthetics the reign of the “American” sensibility, the one that didn’t roar ahead. She filled her living room with reminders of all the moments she felt were important. Without Horn’s stage design – it’s an impossible task to recreate Vreeland’s space physically, but he’s done it well emotionally – the show’s star, Margie Boulé, would not shine the way she does as the helmet-haired kabuki figure and chin-to-ear rouged Vreeland.

Boulé is always a gem on stage; she’s often given the role of the shining and strong woman.But in this two-hour monologue her talent and skills are a flexing muscle, hidden with the nuance and sparkle of reimagining a celebrity, invoking and making Horn’s backdrop come alive. Boulé captures a woman out of time, ahead of time and also deeply invested in it, but not wanting to share her personal struggles. Lost in a secret garden of hell, Boulé reflects the struggle of a little girl, born in Paris and chided for her unconventional looks, who not only makes it big in the male-dominated corporate world of men’s publishing, but sets and holds a benchmark, all men aside.

Diana (no one is sure how to pronounce it: Dian-uh, Deena-uh, or Dian) came of age in a time of American celebrity when mystique was high – as much as we keep trying to dig into Andy Warhol’s motivations for doing what he did, she was loaded and ready to run that race long before him. Boulé rocks us back and forth with Vreeland’s only human contact, Gloria Swanson’s former French maid, via telecom and the classic pulling-down on a clip-on earring to answer the old Ma Bell phone. It’s just this towering woman, and no one else, on stage: a physical outcast, a woman looking for work, worried about her age and estranged from her children.

There’s name dropping aplenty, oh yawn, but it’s an age-old bad habit. Coco Chanel was reticent to spend an evening in Vreeland’s apartment, it’s important to note, because as much as her elegance demanded simplicity and she saw the modern woman waiting for a taxi in the sun and rain, Chanel also saw Vreeland: the rise of women in business, women as editors and publishers, a rise that began to peak in the 1970s. There’s not much difference in tightening a hem length, a picture, or a paragraph, and this play is about that kind of imagination. When all the chips are down and you have nowhere to turn, you turn to yourself, and make (if you are Vreeland) a majestic pair of Catherine the Great riding boots to carry down the streets of New York as you push yourself forward. Boulé adeptly captures a woman of 1972 who must reinvent herself at the price of extinction, and who goes on to do what she did before and make even more of a mark. Boulé shows us how the narrative behind the image is important.

Vreeland’s message remains true and salient: work is always is important, because it’s making something for you and someone else. The only way this happens, work of any kind, is through the power of thinking beyond what’s supposed to be possible and turning vision into reality.

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Triangle Productions’ Full Gallop continues through October 8 at The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza. Ticket and schedule information here.

 

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