December 26, 02 - January 9 , 03
KEY WEST, FL
Playing “Ultimate” Dress Up
SKETCHES - EDITH HEAD’S HOLLYWOOD
Theatre Review by U.G. Fontana
Opening night at the Red Barn Theatre’s production of “Sketches – Edith Head’s Hollywood” was a complete success on two levels. The Red Barn unveiled their improved facilities to unanimous kudos. Architect Michael Miller has designed new structures that house a rehearsal hall, box office, gender-specific dressing rooms (at last!), a scene shop and spanking new patron rest rooms.
Without diminishing the scale or the charm of the original barn structure (which remains intact albeit improved), Miller has joined the new buildings to the barn theatre via a covered walkway that visually links all the structures. The resulting compound is pleasing to the eye and functional. The new brick courtyard also visually connects the area while providing an inviting place to sit and visit with friends before the performance or during intermission. Bravo, Red Barn! Your new digs are a smash hit.
Bravo also to playwrights Paddy Calistro, Carol Calkins and Susan Claassen – who also stars in “Sketches”. For those of us of a certain age, Edith Head was THE costume designer who was as celebrated as the stars she dressed. As Wayland Flowers’ naughty puppet Madame irreverently noted: “Edith Head gives good costume”. And so she did.
“Sketches’ is fine theatre – informative, engaging, humorous and well-acted. Ms. Calistro, as the fashion staff writer for the L.A. Times, met the eight-time Academy Award winner on numerous occasions. She is also the co-author of the designer’s posthumous autobiography. Ms. Calistro’s first-hand knowledge of her subject lends authenticity and insight to the production.
And what a fascinating woman Edith Head was. An only child who enjoyed costuming her menagerie of pets, Head was well-educated (U. of C., Stanford), disciplined, professional, pragmatic, blunt, keen-witted, competitive, fiercely loyal, discreet and, despite her modesty about her skills as a designer, very talented. She appeared regularly on television (“We did the first makeovers but they weren’t known as makeovers then.”).
Her bungalow at Universal Studios was a popular tour attraction and she frequently lectured to theater students from nearby schools. In “Sketches”, the audience is introduced to the designer near the end of her life and becomes one of her student groups – a very effective and factually accurate theatrical device that encourages audience interaction and introduces an element of spontaneity to what is essentially a one-woman show.
Ms. Head is most endearing when she comments upon her friendships within the film community. Her recollection of her first fitting with Bette Davis offers fascinating insights into both women. Neither engaged in formalities or pleasantries. (“She’s a busy woman. I’m a busy woman. We both know it’s a nice day out.”) The fitting began immediately as did a life-long friendship.
Susan Claassen’s portrayal of Edith Head is a tour de force. Whether providing autobiographical anecdotes, conversing with her publisher, answering questions from her lecture group (yes, there are a couple of shills in the house to keep the action flowing) or reminiscing about the many film celebrities she has encountered, Ms. Claassen masterfully inhabits Edith Head’s persona. Robin Deck appears as Ms. Head’s efficient and caring assistant, Ruby.
“Sketches” provides a compelling glimpse of a Hollywood that no longer exists. It’s a winning production worthy of the Red Barn’s winning new venue.
“Sketches” runs through 19 January. Red Barn Box Office: (305) 296-9911.