Fashion Victim

As the longtime fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar, where she started out writing a snobbish -- and frequently satirized -- advice column called "Why Don't You...?" and later, as editor-in-chief of Vogue (where she was abruptly given the gate in 1971), Diana Vreeland ruled New York's fashion world for nearly four decades. Whether she was holding court in the legendary red drawing room of her Park Avenue apartment or spouting such aphorisms as "Shocking pink is the navy blue of India," Vreeland's designs for living set the standard long before, as she might have put it, that funny Connecticut hausfrau with the pageboy became Wall Street's empress of bric-a-brac.

Like most makers of manners, though, Vreeland's outwardly imperious nature was partially intended to mask her more vulnerable aspects. And it's the privately delicate Diana, the tender soul who sought intimacy and self-acceptance (while, as always, making such pronouncements as "The bikini is the most important invention since the atomic bomb") that takes center stage in Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson's Full Gallop.

Originally produced off-Broadway in 1995 with the irrepressible Wilson in the starring role, the one-woman show is being given its regional premiere at the Acoma Center by the Curious Theatre Company. But rather than scour the country for a "name" performer to impersonate the inimitable Vreeland, director Chip Walton, who staged Curious Theatre's acclaimed How I Learned to Drive last spring with an all-Denver cast, has once again plucked his leading lady from among the area's ranks. And even though stalwart (and famously chatty) character actress Deborah Persoff might seem an obvious choice to play the part, she says she has more in common with Diana than simply a penchant for the flamboyant and a taste for show-business "dish."

In fact, no matter how notorious Vreeland was for manufacturing non sequiturs and nutshell fashion statements (she's credited with coining the term "beautiful people" and declaring, "Blue jeans are the greatest invention since the gondola"), Persoff says she was more than just a name-dropping dowager in search of "the perfect chin, the perfect nose or the perfect figure." Unlike today's overdone devotees of glamour and glitz, "Diana would have looked for what was behind that, what was underneath." More important, Vreeland, who died in 1989, never let the demands of making her mark in the business world divert her from attaining fulfillment through marriage, a lofty goal that Persoff appreciates and admires. "I've been married for 31 years to a wonderful man who's supportive and understanding," the actress says. "Much like Diana did during her marriage, I've grown individually because of that relationship."

Even so, Persoff maintains that Vreeland was all the richer for the many friends and acquaintances she made as a result of her high-profile position. And instead of being subjected to a bevy of special effects suggesting such exotic figures as Josephine Baker (and her somewhat excitable pet cheetah), Persoff says the audience will see the celebrities through Diana's eyes. That puts her under some pressure to conjure and evoke at the drop of a hat, but Persoff is undaunted. "I'm not alone up there. I have all these extraordinary people with me. And the audience will get to meet them just as Diana [first] did in her apartment." Then, as if searching for just the right flourish to express Vreeland's fearless and not-always-fashionable femininity, Persoff haltingly offers, "I hope I fit into her shoes. Because," she adds with steely, almost Vreeland-esque determination, "I'm going to wear them."

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Jim Lillie

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