Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review by Rob Appel, SCTheatre.com


In an all-too limited engagement, the stage of the North Coast Repertory Theatre was the setting of a room (in 1982), filled with autographed photos of some of famed designer EDITH HEAD’s famous stars…whom she had dressed…or, more accurately ‘camouflaged’. In this CONVERSATIONS with EDITH HEAD, from the moment EDITH HEAD stumbles in late, from a movie set, to begin her ‘conversations’ , the house is electrified by this magical character, with bangs, bun, horn-rimmed glasses, and immaculately tailored clothes.

The understated green suit that Tippi Hedren wore in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, was a form-fitting design that clung to her curves while managing to look businesslike. The skirt went to the knee; the waist was belted and the collar plain. Accentuated with high-heel pumps and Hedren's blond French twist, it was a look that mirrored the film's tension, by emphasizing the dichotomy between her character's fragile vulnerability and sexual confidence. We remember Hedren's character more clearly than the suit, due, in large part, to costume designer EDITH HEAD. Her great talent was making clothes that served a supporting role, one that added dimension and flavor to a role. (Courtesy SIGNONSANDIEGO)

IEDITH HEAD is portrayed by actress Susan Claassen – who comes off more ‘Head’ than Edith herself. The EDITH HEAD reminiscences are delightful … her good friend Barbara Stanwyck, was long-waisted, and minus a ‘derriere’ … so, HEAD demonstrates on a mannequin, how she remedied this flaw with a wide sash, tied with tails on the backside…to ‘plump’ things out. HEAD continues on with another actress friend and icon … Bette Davis, whom she obviously adored. She said that both Davis and her, were always ‘busy women’ … and, when they started their work, they didn’t waste time discussing the weather or minutia ... they just got down to what suited them both ... BUSINESS!

In one sense, she was the “master of self promotion” … and, in another, she’s “the woman who isn’t there”. It’s this diversity of character, aptly portrayed by Susan Claassen, that makes A Conversation With Edith Head such lovely watching.

Susan Claassen as ... EDITH HEAD

EDITH HEAD, arguably the greatest ever costume designer to the stars, has come to the North Coast Repertory Theatre in the shape of Susan Claassen. In EDITH HEAD’s time, this petite power-force, won eight Oscars, had a 58-year-long career and dressed all the greats, from Mae West to Grace Kelly.

It was supposedly after watching a TV biography of Ms. HEAD, Susan Claassen knew she could play her, and promptly joined forces with Paddy Calistro, co-author of HEAD’s posthumous autobiography, to write this script. Set in 1981, while working on Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, you are welcomed into HEAD’s world. Even if you know nothing about her, you can just tell from Claassen’s high quality of acting, she is capturing HEAD’s essence with her every crafted move. She actually becomes her, a feat also helped by her striking resemblance to the designer. The loving way Susan Claassen handles clothes, her biting wit, and even her exaggerations of success, seems uncanny, adding to the charm.

It is, however, a show with limited appeal. You either need to know about EDITH HEAD, or really want to know about her. The co-authors do assume a certain audience, so, if you fit the bill, you’re in for a great evening of old school glamour and wonderful recollections. (Courtesy Emma Barnett)

Announcing a commemorative postal stamp honoring EDITH HEAD which was issued on Feb. 25th,2003, an audience member asked about ‘her private life’. To which, actress Susan Claassen promptly answers … it was just that … PRIVATE! Let’s hope that CONVERSATIONS with EDITH HEAD will have a
Robert Hampton with Susan Claassen return engagement at the North Coast Repertory Theatre.