Thursday, December 13, 2018

WOW - We are so honored!

The SFBATCC thinks you'll have a great discussion after you "Go See!" The Pear's production of "A Conversation with Edith Head". Click below for more information on it and other SFBATCC "Go See!" selections.
The SFBATCC encourages you to "Go See!" these productions.

Conversation With Edith Head Review – A Hollywood Icon’s Bravura Performance

Susan Classon as Edith Head at the Pear Theatre
A consummate actor, hailing from Tuscon’s Invisible Theatre, Susan Claassen is Edith Head,Channeling Head’s physical, emotional and professional persona, in a powerful performance, Claassen induced a reverse Einstein space-time warp,virtually.  An audience member,post-performance, share her respect for the iconic Hollywood costumer designer’s life work, believing she had seen the living Edith Head interviewed – despite mention of a 1901 birthdate. The illusion of realism, heightened by a dead-panned interviewer’s technique and periodic Pirandello forays into the audience for questions, was so strong that it transcended mention of the principal’s 1901 birthdate. The performance is stimulated by interview questions that prompt Ms. Head to point to inscribed photos of Hollywood stars and tell the story of their interaction. The conversation captures Head as a senior figure, approaching her last film project, reprising her past.
Susan Claassen as Edith Head
Conversation” lives up to its advertisement as an“… evening of wit, wisdom, and a Whisper of Gossip”  As she avers, “There’s nothing like a row of Oscars (8 from 34 nominations) for putting the fear of God into an actress who thinks she knows everything about dress designing.” Learn the story behind Dorothy Lamour’s bodice, Betty Davis’s off shoulder gown etc.  Claassen wrote and now performs an evocation of Hollywood’s studio era that is a not to be missed experience. The intricacies of camouflaging (her word, repeated more than once) awkward features, for example Barbara Stanwyck’s derriere, provides insight into costumer’s role in the motion picture industry: a battle to transform an actual body into an idealized image. 
Claassen delves deeply into Head’s persona in this concentrated distillation of her life, well beyond the take in a late-night interview with the actual person. For example, Hedy Lamar appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, was shown in Bombshell, a documentary on the sex symbol and inventor, who, not surprisingly Edith Head dressed. Head entered the “industry” in its early decades, before the narrowing of gender participation that is typically concomitant with a field’s success,whether motion pictures or genetics.  In the 1920’s, Hollywood was more open to female talent, not only in costume design but in writing and directing, than it has been until quite recently. 
The classic Hollywood studio been likened to a“university’ in sociologist Reuel Denney’s The Astonished Muse, a study of early television characterized by live performances, before the AMPEX videotape invention shifted the medium away from the stage, towards film.  Classic Hollywood’s tail end paralleled the rise of live television, instantiated in the film My Favorite Year, through an Errol Flynn like character experiencing a panic attack upon learning that wha the does on camera is instantly transmitted. There is no second take! 
A Claassen play is a study in occupational sociology and sociology of work, including the key phase of “Getting a Job.”  A newspaper advertisement from a studio seeking a neophyte designer caught the attention of a California High School French Teacher, doubling as an art teacher, due to the connection assumed by school authority figures between France and Art. Thrust into the position without previous experience or training, Head winged it. Taking art courses to catch up,she found she enjoyed it more than foreign language teaching.  
In contrast to the classic sociological tale of job information, arriving through a relatively distant contact,this is a tale of “Guangshi” or influence. Whether eager and naive or strategic and oblivious, Head constructed a portfolio including friends’ artwork and designs to bring to the interview. She also used the advantage of two of her students being related to a studio executive, to get a preference for the position. Having attained a position, Head proved adept at learning on the job from her supervisor and received assignments of her own to costume B westerns at Paramount and then moved on to higher value properties.
Conversation” is an exception to the usual rule of Pear’s ensemble locally sourced talent, performing contemporary and classic plays. After a brief run, Pear diverts to cabaret, a subset of its talent and then to a thought experiment exploring the effects of mysterious loss of half the world’s population; Jeffrey Lo’s Spending the End of the World on OKCUpid.
Photos: Courtesy of Pear Theatre
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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Claassen's spot-on performance creates an intimate portrait of Head."

BWW Review: A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD at Pear Theatre is an intimate evening of Hollywood backstory with the acclaimed costume designer

Betsy Kruse Craig, the new artistic director of Pear Theatre, has scored a significant success with their production A Conversation with Edith HeadSusan Claassen and Paddy Calistro's historically accurate and fascinating look at Hollywood's greatest costume designer. Using Head's words culled from Calistro's posthumous autobiography, Edith Head's Hollywood, this show is a delight for film and fashion buffs, and Claassen's spot-on performance creates an intimate portrait of Head.
Claassen, who bears a striking resemblance to her subject, was inspired to co-write the show after viewing a television biography on Ms. Head. Sharing a love for fashion, Claassen teamed up with Paddy Calistro, one of the leading authorities on Head's life and work, to create this loving tribute that has seen international acclaim since its premiere in Tucson, Arizona. The show is incredibly well documented, including marvelous "Edith-isms" and clever interactions with the audience. Right at the onset, she came up to my friend and gently mocked his choice of blue jeans to attend her show.
The audience was full of Head aficionados, who would help answer trivia questions posed by Ms. Head. The format of the show is a faux interview in 1981 with a 'host" (Mike Saenz) prompting Ms. Head with questions about her illustrious career. She's on the set of her last picture Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, but more than eager to regale us with details about her decades of work that resulted in over 1,100 films, 35 Academy Award nominations and an unprecedented eight Oscars. Even those unfamiliar with the costume designers have seen Ms. Head's remarkable designs for a range of stars from Clara Bow and Bette Davis to Grace KellyAudrey HepburnPaul Newman, and Robert Redford.

The set is peppered with Hollywood photos, Academy Awards and two of Head's most famous dresses, the sensational brown satin gown for Bette Davis in All About Eve and Elizabeth Taylor's white tulle gown from A Place in the Sun. Claassen is dressed in a smart grey suit, her signature dark eyeglasses and the straight banged hairstyle with a pencil stuck in her bun. Her uncanny resemblance is just the icing on the cake of a brilliant tour de force performance that brings Head to life before our eyes. Edith takes us back to her beginning at Paramount, faking a portfolio to snare a job as a design assistant. In the male-dominated design world, Head cannily befriended many actresses and related the special relationships she had with Taylor, Mae West, and Barbara Stanwyck. Head understood the female figure and quickly became a star in her own right.
BWW Review: A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD at Pear Theatre is an intimate evening of Hollywood backstory with the acclaimed costume designer
The show touches on delicious Hollywood backstories, her disappointment at Oscar failures, and her poignant attempt to validate her life's work. There are questions taken from the audience, and Ms. Head always has a quick retort. Commenting on audience members fashion was wickedly funny, a sly take on her hit role on Art Linkletter's TV show House Party, where she would dispense brutally frank assessments of audience fashion decades before the word 'makeover' existed. Looking back at my blue-jeaned friend, she commented, "There isn't ANYONE I can't makeover." What comes through is a smart, well-crafted portrait of a woman, totally dedicated to her craft, who left an indelible mark on fashion for over six decades. A master of self-promotion, the show ends with her triumphantly clutching an Oscar, the reward from her peers for her excellence, perseverance, and skill.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Enigmatic designer Edith Head comes alive onstage

Enigmatic designer Edith Head comes alive onstage

During a six-decade Hollywood career, legendary costume designer Edith Head inhabited multiple closets, including the wardrobe departments at Paramount and Universal Studios.
She netted eight Oscars, 35 Academy Award nominations and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and costumed such stars as Mae West, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
She knew whose bodices to play up and whose hips to camouflage. Privy to gossip, she kept the stars’ secrets under wraps — as well as her own.

Now her fanciful life will be presented onstage in “A Conversation with Edith Head,” a primarily one-woman show that will have its Bay Area premiere Dec. 7-16. The show, which has garnered kudos worldwide, will be staged at Mountain View’s Pear Theatre. Local actor Michael Saenz will field questions from the audience post-performance.

The designer was born Edith Claire Posener in 1897 to Jewish parents, a fact she never admitted in adulthood, at least not publicly. The name Head came from her first husband, whom she divorced in 1936.

While she enjoyed a long-term second marriage to art director Wiard “Bill” Ihnen, she never addressed rumors about her relationships with women, including Barbara Stanwyck. She also lied about her age, and nabbed her first gig at Paramount by submitting sketches by other students at her art school.
Susan Claassen, who developed “Conversation” with author Paddy Calistro, has much in common with the woman she plays onstage — her appearance, her love of clothes and her Jewish background — with one notable exception: She tells the truth.

“I am in no closets,” said Claassen during a phone interview from New York, where each year she plays a clown in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. When she’s not clowning around or taking “Conversation” on tour, Claassen is managing artistic director at Tucson’s Invisible Theatre. She’s in her 48th season at the theater and premiered “Conversation” there in 2002.

She remains in character even after the show, which in 16 years of touring has drawn celebrities who knew the designer, including Hitchcock star Tippi Hedren and the late Joan Rivers. Some audience members talk to her as if she actually is Head. The wig with full bangs and chignon, dark glasses and tailored suit make the resemblance uncanny.

Susan Claassen transforms into the legendary costume designer in “A Conversation with Edith Head”
However, unlike the designer, Claassen is an open book. Two years ago, after same-sex marriages became legal, she married her partner of 32 years in a sailboat under the Golden Gate Bridge. When the couple returned to Tucson, where Claassen is an active member of Reform Congregation Chaverim, their rabbi conducted a ceremony under “a gorgeous chuppah.”

In addition, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona has honored her for her charitable and cultural contributions, and she presented a program on Jewish humor at a Federation fundraiser.
“Conversation” came about serendipitously. Seeking ideas for one-person shows for other actors at Invisible Theatre, she stumbled upon Head’s story on the Biography Channel. Impressed by Head’s accomplishments, she was also transfixed, thinking: “Gosh, I look like her!”

She read everything about the designer she could get her hands on, including Calistro’s “Edith Head’s Hollywood,” an authorized biography published after Head’s 1981 death. She flew to Santa Monica to meet Calistro and the two women put their heads together to collaborate. “We were like magnets,” she said.

One of their challenges was discovering the truth, because Head “lied about everything,” virtually inventing herself, according to Claassen. In the show, she confronts myriad controversies “in a way that is appropriate to Edith.”

The rumored relationship with Stanwyck? “We were good friends,” Edith says onstage.
And the designer’s Jewish roots? Edith grumbles that legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland “told the Hollywood Reporter that I was Jewish. Diana is impossible! Vogue was right to get rid of her. What difference does it make that I was born Jewish? I’m now an ardent Catholic. My mother always told me to blend in.”

Said Claassen: “Whenever we have a Jewish audience, that line gets a great laugh.”
“A Conversation with Edith Head.” Dec. 7-16, with Dec. 6 preview, at Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View. $35 with student and senior discounts.

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Janet Silver Ghent is a writer and editor living in Palo Alto. She can be reached at

Edith Head Comes To Pear Theatre

Edith Head Comes To Pear Theatre

Edith Head Comes To Pear Theatre
December brings the Bay Area premiere of A CONVERSATION WITH Edith Head, a one-woman show starring Susan Claassen, written by Susan Claassen and Paddy Calistro - an entertaining look at old Hollywood through the eyes of one of its most legendary costumers. Costume designer and Stanford alumna Edith Head dressed most of the great stars, from Mae West to Elizabeth Taylor, receiving 35 Academy Award nominations and winning an unprecedented eight Oscars.
WHEN: preview Thursday, December 6 at 8:00 PM
press opening Friday, December 7 at 8:00 PM
runs Thursdays - Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM through December 16.
WHERE: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View
TICKETS: $15 (Previews) - $35; savings available for seniors & students.
For information or tickets, visit or call (650) 254-1148.