Monday, December 10, 2018

A Visit with a Timeless Icon of Hollywood Fashion

A Conversation with Edith Head

Susan Claasen as Edith Head

Based on Edith Head’s Hollywood by Edith Head and Paddy Calistro
Starring Susan Claasen

Until December 16, 2018

Pear Theater
1110 La Avenida St, Mountain View CA

Edith Head, that fierce little bespectacled bird of Hollywood fashion, lives again in Susan Claasen’s world-renowned solo show. A Conversation with Edith Head is indeed just that, with Claasen, as Head, engaging the audience with her “wit, wisdom, and a whisper of gossip” as she recounts her life as one of Hollywood’s foremost costume designers.

The "Real" Edith Head with her Oscars

Claasen, who bears a striking resemblance to Head, creates an easy intimacy as she chats about the 44 years at Paramount Studios where she costumed the likes of Elizabeth Taylor (with a 19-inch waist), Dorothy Lamour, and especially Grace Kelly, that paragon of exquisite beauty. Admitting that she best loved dressing men like Cary Grant, Paul Newman, and Danny Kaye because of how they looked and moved, she stresses how important it is for costumes to enhance, and not distract from, character. One of Head’s secrets of success is that she really listened to what the performers needed and wanted in their clothes while at the same time complying with the director, knowing that her role was, as Tim Gunn would say, to “make it work.”

When she was suddenly let go from Paramount after decades of service, her friend Alfred Hitchcock, whom she loved working with, helped her get established at Fox. Her anecdotes about working with Hitchcock are delightful and funny, as when Tippi Hedren’s green suit in The Birds had multiple iterations, “one for each peck.”

Classen's "Head" Shot

It is clear that Claasen relishes channeling the confident and sometimes snarky designer who stayed true to herself and thrived in the jungle that is Hollywood. She interacts easily with the audience, answering their questions, praising a woman’s put-together outfit and admonishing a man with an aghast “You wore JEANS to see ME?!”

Claasen’s knowledge of Head’s life, her love of the subject, and her easy demeanor on stage all create a comfortable and enjoyable visit with an icon of yesteryear. A Conversation with Edith Head will most likely appeal to the limited set of theatergoers who know and love the history of Hollywood glamor, and for those not familiar with the subject, it will be a learning experience.

More information about the show:

A Conversation with Edith Head
Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St, Mountain View CA
Thurs-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm

Edith Head: Susan Claassen

Producer: Elizabeth Cruse Craig
Production Designers: James Blair and Susan Claasen
Costume Recreations:  Chris Brewer and Maryann Trombino
Wig Designer: Renate E. Leuschner
Voice and Movement Director: Dianne J. Winslow

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