Thursday, November 29, 2012

Out & About--A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD at the Pasadena Playhouse

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.  Every moment is based on Edith's own words, including hour upon hour of taped conversation, and speaking with those who were closest to the designing giant.  

There is an intensity about Suz's performance--whether a moment is scripted or ad libbed--that seems so true to life.  In fact, she channels Edith and takes great pleasure in singling out audience members who are in need of a little style advice...women and men alike.  Suz has traveled the world with Conversation, and former colleagues of Ms. Head are regularly in the audience and amazed at the authencity of the performance.  One former assistant, in fact, reportedly froze in fear at the grand entrance of "Ms. Head" at the beginning of the play because it so closely matched his own memory.  And you can count The Birds star Tippi Hedren among the show's many fans...coming to see it not once, but twice.

Conversation is a joy on so many levels.  It is wall to wall with stories of Old on the set prompt remembrances of the history of both film and fashion.  Actresses include Grace KellyAudrey HepburnElizabeth TaylorBarbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Mae West, Loretta Young, Clara Bow, and oh yes...the dreaded (Edith enemy) Claudette Colbert.  Actors include Cary Grant, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman.  Also, there were amusing tales of working with often over-the-top directors like Cecil B. DeMille and Alfred Hitchcock.  Believe me, there is more than enough to satisfy even the most studied of cinephiles.  But in addition to the humor in these inside stories, the performance is incredibly moving, especially whenever "Edie" reflects on her love for her husband.  I couldn't hold back the tears that came to my eyes.

Every moment of my visit to the Pasadena Playhouse was a little bit of heaven.  The show was brilliant and everyone associated with it was extremely generous with their time.  Not only did I meet a new friend and true kindred spirit, but I felt as though I spent an afternoon with my hero, Edith Head.  What a gift.  Though Edith designed for an unthinkable number of films, she always maintained an incredible standard of quality in her work and a timelessness in her design.  Conversation celebrates this legacy.  

There could not be a better way to get to know this costume designing genius than by experiencing A Conversation with Edith Head for yourself.  If you live in the Los Angeles area, you can still catch the show at the Pasadena Playhouse through December 1st or in Costa Mesa December 4th and 5th.  And you can always visit Susan Claassen's site to get her ongoing tour information.  See you at the theater!

At the landmark Pasadena Playhouse mingling before the show

Wearing a vintage 1960s dress (with 1950s box purse) that is similar to one designed by Edith Head  

With the brilliant Susan Claassen, who completely embodies the likeness and spirit of my hero Ms. Head

The entrance was filled with sketches and photographs of Edith's work,
which included many Westerns such as Katharine Hepburn in Rooster Cogburn

Further proof of the timeless quality of Edith's designs

Costumes from Three Ring Circus (1954) with an article called "Up in Edie's Room" (above)
and the architectural layout of Edith's actual studio at Paramount 

The stage is set with incredible photographs and other reminders of Edith's influential life

The set also included examples of Edith's best known costumes, 
including Bette Davis' gown in All About Eve (above) and Elizabeth Taylor's in A Place in the Sun

Feeling like I was truly having a conversation with Edith Head while admiring her memorabilia,
including of polaroids of Grace Kelly and her children

Thanks to Susan and two great gentlemen in her life--
director James Blair (left) and the show's host Stuart Moulton

Thanks to Kevin Osborne for the photos of me and "Edith"
and learn how Ms. Head has inspired both me and Suz in a recent series on Movie Star Makeover


Christian Esquevin said...

Suz is the best. One is transported to 1981, and then earlier, to all those scenes - with just us, the cameras, and all those lovely people out there in the dark. Thank you Kimberly for sharing your heart-warming experience of this wonderful show.

Kimberly Truhler said...

She is, isn't she? We talked about how great YOU are, too, Christian. :) I just love everyone associated with the show. We all have these shared passions as well as recognition of how influential costume design still is today. Anyone who sees this show will get an unbelievable education about Hollywood history and walk away only wanting to know more. The show is such a gift to us all.

Stuart said...

Kimberly, we are in awe of you and in love with you! Thanks so much for joining our Edie Family!!! (and you looked fabulous, to boot!)
Stuart Moulton

Kimberly Truhler said...

Oh Stuart...the feeling is mutual! So happy to know you all and love being a part of your fabulous family. Long live Edith Head!

News from Suz said...

Update from "Head"quarters! Kimberly YOU are a true original. You have style, class and charm. My heart is filled with gratitude! xo

Silver Screenings said...

I was so excited about this show after reading your review, that I contacted the tour rep and asked where their 2013 shows may be held.

Great photos here, too!

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you so much, Suz! Your words mean a lot to me. I'm so grateful to have met you and just adore you, your talent, and your family. I am always with you in spirit...wish I could be at every performance! Looking forward to getting to know you even better. xoxo

Kimberly Truhler said...

That's so great, Silver Screenings! Ohhhh, it's a MUST SEE. You'll be in heaven about a dozen ways at once. I'm so glad you reached out to them. Can't recommend the show highly enough!

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