As Lynda Clark stalked across the stage in a slinky black top and trousers made by director and costume designer John McIlwee, her stunning solo performance as controversial fashion editor Diana Vreeland seemed half concert, half acting master class. There was more than a note of Judy Garland's brassy confidence in the animated musicality of Clark's voice, especially in her delighted octave jumps when she greeted an old friend on the phone or praised one of her many passions.
Full Gallop, running in N.C. State's TheatreFEST 2017, is the right title for both this production and the vivid life of its subject. Vreeland imperiously holds court in her Park Avenue apartment in 1971 after a four-month European tour. ("The usual," she tells a friend. "London, Milano, Madrid, Paris.") But as "the Oscar Wilde of fashion" namedrops European designers and artists, details of a devastating career reversal unfold. Vreeland embarked on that tour after Vogue, where she was editor-in-chief in the tumultuous sixties, fired her, sending shockwaves through the fashion industry. Back in New York, her future is anything but clear.
Clark conveys the jackknife turns of a quicksilver mind with precision and panache. In one moment, her self-made tastemaker unshakably asserts, "Give 'em what they never knew they wanted!" In the next, when Vreeland's trademark near-kabuki facial makeup slips, we glimpse a deeper vulnerability. Clark knows a one-person show is a conversation with the audience; she quizzes and confides in us as a lexicon of facial expressions immediately communicate exasperating news received remotely from a comically long-suffering French assistant (JoAnne Dickinson, in an offstage role). When an actor handles a character with this much style, her subject would have to approve. —Byron Woods