"The year is 1981. The production for Carl Reiner's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid is underway on the Universal lot. The studio's iconic costume designer--Edith Head--is running late to meet with us. Her attentive assistant, Stuart, steps up and issues apologies to the audience before ticking off notable numbers associated with Ms. Head's career. 8 Academy Awards. 35 Oscar nominations. A 57 year career. Over 1,000 movies. And just as the audience started to sink into our seats to wait, a booming voice from the back of the theater makes everyone jump and suddenly Edith Head has made her way to the stage.This is how the brilliant Susan Claassen begins A Conversation with Edith Head...taking the audience on a journey to truly meet the master. It is impossible to call this one-woman show merely a performance. I mean, the woman completely embodies the enigmatic Ms. Head. From the trademark hair and glasses to the tailored suit on a petite frame, the likeness is striking. And in creating this show with renowned biographer and fashion journalist Paddy Calistro, not only does Suz know what Edith would say, she also knows how she would say it. ..."
Friday, November 30, 2012
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
NEWS AND REVIEWS Susan Claassen stars in A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD, a solo performance about one of the most celebrated fashion designers that Hollywood ever experienced, performs as a guest production at the Pasadena Playhouse’s Carrie Hamilton Theatre. The date is 1981. The setting is Edith Head’s studio located on the Universal lot. She is preparing for her next (and final) feature, the Carl Reiner directed Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a comical spoof of 1940’s film noir dramas. She greets her audience with the assistance of the host of her presentation, Stuart Moulton (performing as “himself”.) Once formally introduced by the host, she addresses her audience by telling about her long life as a costume designer for the moving picture business. She acknowledges her theater public by giving her salutations with an occasional comment on how some audience members are dressed. (Not very formal, but dressed up within their own right!) She then continues, if not getting side tracked, on her life story while dishing plenty of inside details with working in the movies right before they began to talk. First teaming up with Cecil B. DeMille, a producer/director at Paramount Pictures, she moved up within the ranks of being the head designer at the studio. She fills in her details, often relying upon answering questions suggested and written by audience members before the performance. She bestows some of the great points on her many designs for movies, many remembered and a few long forgotten. (Some by Edith herself!) With the held of her host asking questions that the audience didn’t ask, she emotes while pointing to sketches, photos, and actual costumes found within her studio. She notes that after working in pictures under contract for two studios (the other Universal) for some sixty years, she is at her game, although she shows a slight bit of humbleness in the process. If the above description gives the reader of this review an impression that one is really seeing Edith on stage dishing out the rather positive dirt on the Hollywood stars and what they wore, one can nearly be correct on that notion! This performance is so well detailed, it’s not Susan Claassen seen on stage but Edith herself! This show, conceived by Ms. Claassen and Paddy Calistro, an author who wrote the biography Edith Head’s Hollywood a few years after her death in 1981 due to natural causes, shows that the Ms. Claassen did her homework. Not only she knows nearly any and every fact about this costumer designer, but looks exactly like this woman who ironically wasn’t as glamorous looking in face and fashion as to many of the stars and starlets she fitted! Donning her trademarked horn rimmed glasses and dressed in a charcoal gray formal top and skirt, she gives the appearance of a stereotypical librarian, school teacher, or a spinster “old maid”. (After all, her work may have appeared in front of the camera, but she toiled far behind it!) But looks are deceiving as one will hear all about the days of motion pictures when movie stars were admired by fans but never stalked, the movie studios only controlled its features and stars rather than dominating any and every form of media in existence (including those that have yet to exist), and when these same movies were shot and projected in theaters on film! As to the conversation part? Susan as Edith doesn't talk at the audience, but she emotes to them, giving a charming ninety minutes of conversing about the life in movies from days not too long ago. As to the production side of things. the set as created by James Blair and Susan Claassen shows her studio to be cluttered but not messy. (There is not a sewing machine in sight!) However, her many personal framed pictures are seen posted on the back wall . Renate E. Leuschner’s wig design details Edith’s hair; black hair cut with straight bangs and all piled into a neat bun. (Typical for the “old maid” look!) And Cris Brewer and Maryann Trombino’s costuming recreations shows some of Edith’s masterworks, both in miniature as well as full size. (Not all costumes are displayed as Edith designed more that she could remember!) For those that are fans of fashion, old Hollywood, or both, one will receive plenty and then some in this performance by the talented Ms. Claassen. It’s an epic about Hollywood then and perhaps now, as there are still those people designing outfits for the stars of today. There may never be another person as Edith Head working in the picture business in the same fashion. (Pun intended?) This may be a good thing--or not! PS. Although Edith’s clientele may have been working with the females of the movies, she does speak about the two men in her life; her second husband (not the original “Mr. Head”), and a golden naked man standing only twelve inches high. In fact, she received eight of these men, not counting the twenty seven additional chances to collect more of these little guys called by one single name: “Oscar”. Not bad for a woman who couldn’t act, let alone remember lines! A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD, performs at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Avenue (one half block south of Colorado Blvd.) Pasadena, until December 1st. Showtimes are Saturday, November 17th at 8:00 PM, Sunday, November 18th at 2:00 PM, Saturday, November 24th at 4:00 and 8:00 PM, Sunday, November 25th at 2:00 and 7:00 PM, Thursday, November 29th at 8:00 PM, Friday, November 30th at 8:00 PM, and Saturday, December 1st at 4:00 and 8:00 PM For reservations or for more information, call (626) 356-7529, or via online at http://www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org, or http://www.EdithHead.biz
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Center Stage Theater Hosts A Conversation with Edith Head
A Conversation with Edith Head at Center Stage Theater
Susan Claassen Mines the Hollywood Legend for Laughs and Insight
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
There are two kinds of questions in A Conversation with Edith Head — those submitted by the night’s particular audience and those suggested by the assistant. Together, they provide more than adequate jumping off points for the talented Claassen, who inhabits Edith Head to an uncanny degree. While Claassen as Head serves up a fair amount of unsolicited fashion advice to those audience members whose questions she takes, the ribbing never gets too heavy. For every time she asked something like, “Where did you come from tonight? Have you been gardening?” there were at least another two instances in which she observed “That’s lovely; what a good color for you.” The house lights went up and down as Claassen switched the focus from her own performance to the other people in the room, but for the big set pieces, such as a description of how she engineered an effective look for Barbara Stanwyck’s long torso, or how Bette Davis saved her by slipping a too-big top off her shoulders in the famous “bumpy night” scene in All About Eve, Claassen was all business, and held the focus on the story with ease.
A Conversation boasts a beautiful set, adorned with photos, sketches, pieces of fabric, and a half-dozen life-size dressmaker’s dummies, and Claassen moved skillfully among it’s many images and artifacts, grabbing the right image at just the right moment to move her stories along. Each of the full-size dresses gets its own set piece, with the Bette Davis brown “bumpy night” dress on one side of the stage, and Elizabeth Taylor’s white strapless evening dress from A Place in the Sun on the other. Of course, Head did not dress only women, and Claassen finds several clever ways to get some of her famous leading men into the mix, including a short cameo from a young Elvis Presley.
Despite it’s openness to the specific questions posed on that particular night, A Conversation with Edith Head nevertheless followed a fairly rigorous structure, which paid off nicely when Claassen moved through the evening’s final sequence, which touched on the making of Sunset Boulevard. This show is a touching valentine to the Golden Era of Hollywood, and it’s rendered all the more so by the intelligence of its subject and Claassen’s bold and confident performance.