Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thank You Silver Screen Modiste! Christian Esquevin and the staff of The Coronado Library are first class in every way!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


We've been blessed to have Edith Head (as played by the amazing Susan Claassen) make several appearances here in Coronado over the years. The latest having been on October 27, 2012 for the production of the play A Conversation with Edith Head .  This play never ceases to produce wonder in the audience. Whether you grew up watching the films that Edith Head helped create, or whether Edith Head is just a name from the past, you will come away from this show feeling that you now really know and understand this remarkable woman. Susan Claassen makes this possible with her sensitive and brave acting, along with the terrific script she co-wrote with Paddy Calistro. Paddy Calistro was the co-author with Edith Head on the book, Edith Head's Hollywood.

Susan Claassen is shown above portraying Miss Head in A Conversation with Edith Head. She has mastered Edith's mannerisms and expressions, but even more striking, she makes this complex woman and her nearly 60 year career thoroughly accessible and as immediate as if you were having tea at her house while she was telling you stories of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Susan is the Managing Artistic Director of the Invisible Theatre of Tuscon, Arizona. She has played Edith Head  in theater venues in Edinburgh, London, Key West, Nantucket, Chicago, Phoenix,  Los Angeles, and other locales. She first got the idea of playing Miss Head while watching a Television documentary about the designer and was struck by their resemblance. She has used that resemblance advantageously and has adopted many of Edith's mannerisms, postures, and gestures to reinforce the Edith Head image.

And Susan as Edith Head dishes out on the stars she worked with: Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn ("that long skinny neck"), Hedy Lamarr ("she ate constantly"), and Claudette Colbert (choice words for the actress that had snubbed Edith early in her career). The anecdotes about the other stars she worked with keep rolling: Gloria Swanson; Mae West; Katharine Hepburn; Kim Novak; Grace Kelly; Marlene Dietrich; Sophia Loren; Olivia de Havilland; as well as directors like Cecil B. DeMille, Billy Wilder, and Alfred Hitchcock. 

The play was full of touching and revealing stories about Edith's private life, at home and with her husband. These scenes were interspersed with the sobering moments expressing the stressful demands of studio bosses and temperamental stars, complete with stories of dejection and disappointments. But humor is also part of the play as Susan as Edith is shown above giving advice about how to really be objective about your own looks while standing in front of a mirror. Along with Susan's ad-libs, she addresses specific members of the audience, and answers written questions, making for an intimate and complete experiential and theatrical  experience.  And the play does not gloss over Edith Head's sometimes controversial appropriation of screen credit partially due to the work of others. These situations are all interwoven in the script.

Susan Claassen and her talented troupe consisting of Company Manager James Blair, and Stuart Moulton, who acts as Miss Head's Host and interlocutor, produce an outstanding show. The stage design was conceived by James Blair and Susan Claassen and create the illusion of Miss Head's studio during the final years of her life. Portraits of all of the famous stars she dressed hang on the wall along with copies of some of her iconic costumes and prop Oscar statuettes. Personal touches are added by photos of her late husband and her dog, along with the miniature sewing machines she collected. These sacred objects in turn serve as props to bring forth her recollections - both happy and sad.

The special occasion of A Conversation with Edith Head playing at the Coronado Public Library was complemented by an exhibit of original costume design sketches. Still in character, Susan Claassen toured the exhibit with library director and collector Christian Esquevin.
Susan in character as Edith Head along with production Host Stuart Moulton view some of the costume sketches. Stuart was taken by the glittering red gown sketch designed for Ann-Margret in The Swinger. 

The photo above shows Edith Head at home at Casa Ladera in Beverly Hills. She wears her trademark necklace made of antique ivory English and French theater "tickets." Elizabeth Taylor so loved the necklace that Edith bequeathed them to her at her death. They were subsequently sold at auction along with Elizabeth Taylor's other jewels. Susan wears a custom-made copy of the necklace in her performances. A Conversation with Edith Head will next play in Santa Barbara and Pasadena, California. If you have any chance of seeing this production, you will not want to miss it.

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