Friday, February 27, 2009

Claassen reviving one-woman show on Edith Head | ®

Claassen reviving one-woman show on Edith Head ®

Published: 02.27.2009
Claassen reviving one-woman show on Edith Head
She portrays the Oscar-winning fashion designer
By Kathleen Allen

Edith Head died in 1981.

Yet, the great Oscar-winning costume designer, lives.
Thank Invisible Theatre’s Susan Claassen for that.

She remounts her one-woman show, “A Conversation with Edith Head,” for a limited run next week.
Claassen first resurrected Head in 2002 with a script fashioned by Claassen; Paddy Calistro, co-author with the designer of “Edith Head’s Hollywood”; and Tucson director Carol Calkins.

Since then, it’s taken on a life of its own, drawing crowds at Scotland’s Fringe Festival, packing them in at a small theater in London’s West End and bringing it to adoring fans around this country.

Claassen was watching a television biography about Head when she realized her remarkable resemblance to the designer. A play was born.

It takes place a few weeks before Head’s death. As Claassen-as-Head paces the stage, hand on hip, eyes looking up and down as though assessing — and dismissing — what you’re wearing, she talks about her career. And what a career: For 44 years, Head designed costumes for 1,131 films, received 35 Academy Award nominations and won eight Oscars.She dressed such weighty stars as as Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Paul Newman and Grace Kelly.

Performances for the 90-minute “A Conversation With Edith Head” are 7:30 p.m Thursday, 8 p.m. next Friday and March 7, and 3 p.m. March 8 at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Tickets are $25, with half-price tickets one-half hour before the show —if they are available. And we wouldn’t bet on that. Call 882-9721.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Claassen's play about Hollywood icon adapts to locale

Claassen's play about Hollywood icon adapts to locale

Claassen's play about Hollywood icon adapts to locale

February 25, 2009, 5:08 p.m.

Tucson Citizen

Just like an evolving work of art, Invisible Theatre's original production "A Conversation with Edith Head" has evolved.

Back in 2002 when IT's artistic director Susan Claassen wrote and made her debut in this one-woman show - giving a much-praised portrayal of the iconic Hollywood costume designer - the story was set on the Universal City Studio Tour where she had a bungalow. Now Claassen makes adjustments to her intimate portrait so it is set in whatever city - or country - she happens to be in for the show.

So when "A Conversation with Edith Head" returns to the Tucson stage March 5, the dialogue will be adjusted so there are direct references to the Old Pueblo.

"Her husband loved Southwestern art, and they would come here looking for pieces to collect," Claassen says. "They also went to Nogales. And remember that 'The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean' was shot here, " Claassen adds. She doesn't expect any shortage of Tucson references.

"Edith Head knew the value of reaching out to the public, and we do that, too. It is especially rewarding for me to meet people who actually knew her."

There were some particularly touching incidents in London, where the show played for three weeks in 2007. The London run followed the play's successful three weeks at Scotland's Edinburgh Festival Fringe ("There is no such thing as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they always say 'Festival Fringe' Claassen assures us), where the show was officially declared a sell-out.

"Out of 2,000 acts, there were only 200 that officially sold out," Claassen says proudly.
"When we went to London, people were always telling us stories about their personal connections to her, especially older people. One said how they would see Edith Head's name during World War II and just seeing that name would give them hope."

Edith Head lived up to that promise, going on to design the costumes for the stars of many pictures for decades after the war ended. The last film she worked on was Steve Martin's comedy "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," released in 1982.

The iconic costume designer had a particularly close working relationship with another Brit, Alfred Hitchcock. Claassen is especially taken by the gowns Head designed for Grace Kelly in "Rear Window" and "To Catch A Thief."

"In 'Rear Window' the clothes she wears actually progress the story," Claassen points out.
In a complementary event, the Loft Cinema is screening "Rear Window" at 1 p.m. Sunday. Claassen will be there to talk about Head's costumes for the picture and dish a little dirt on Hitchcock's battles with uptight censors to keep some sexual tension in this 1954 classic thriller.

"In film, you design for the close-ups," Claassen explains. "That's what made the neckline so important."
"Edith would be on the set so if the censors complained about too much cleavage, she would slip in a large flower, or something else fashionable."

Hitchcock and the costume designer worked especially well together, says Claassen, who has become an expert on the subject.

"Edith would say, 'With every director you have a special language. But with Hitch I didn't even need words.'"

Claassen also feels a strong connection to this lady who was equally famous for her bangs.
"On a lot of levels I do relate to her," Claassen says. "I love doing the role. Whenever I'm in costume, I always stay in character. I feel personally responsible for representing her accurately.
"On a lot of levels I can relate to her directly. To her determination, and her love for style. Both of us have such passion for what we do.

"But she is different from me, too. She is more reserved, less animated than I am. Her sense of humor is different. She didn't smile as much as I do."

However there is no denying the physical look they share. When Claassen is stage-ready, the resemblance to Head is uncanny.

"If you Google her I come up a lot. The Web site for the Biography Channel had a picture of her, but it was actually a photo of me.

"We did notify them of the error," Claassen adds with a little smile.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tucson Weekly : Arts : Fraud and Fury

Tucson Weekly : Arts : Fraud and Fury

Fraud and Fury
Power stands at the center of Arizona Rep's 'Medea,' Invisible Theatre's 'Camping'

Power--how to wield it, how to abuse it. That's the subject of two plays, written nearly 2 1/2 millennia apart, that opened in Tucson last week. A witch-princess exacts revenge in Medea at the UA's Arizona Repertory Theatre, while an American president squares off against an ambitious industrialist in Camping With Henry and Tom at Invisible Theatre.

Roberto Guajardo, Roger Owen and James Blair in "Camping With Henry and Tom.

Warren G. Harding is the president in question in Mark St. Germain's Camping With Henry and Tom. Remember Harding? Probably not, unless you're an American-history enthusiast, and the Teapot Dome scandal rings a bell. Harding was initially, in the early 1920s, a popular president, but his administration was probably the most corrupt in American history, at least until George Dubya Bush came along. To his credit, Harding was never directly implicated in the scandals, and St. Germain depicts him as merely an amiable front man for a political machine; as Roger Owen plays him at IT, he's tender-hearted and intellectually bland. Not the sort of personality you'd expect to be able to stand up to a combative Henry Ford and cynical Thomas Edison out in the Maryland woods.

The play is based very loosely on an actual camping trip involving those three men in the summer of 1921, but the plot is largely St. Germain's invention. Ford spirits Harding and Edison away from their entourage, but strands them all when he hits a deer on a remote forest road. While the men wait to be rescued, Ford has all the more time to reveal what he's after: He wants Harding to facilitate the sale, at a rock-bottom price, of a hydroelectric facility that Ford envisions as a sort of huge private-enterprise version of what a decade later would become the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Ford will stop at nothing to get what he wants, and that includes blackmailing Harding, whose personal life has not exactly been impeccable. Meanwhile, Edison, who has no great love for either man (or, apparently, just about anybody), sits by and insists that his companions "think of me as Switzerland--cold and neutral."
For the most part, the underwritten Edison (amusingly, crustily played by Roberto Guajardo) is there merely to provide wisecracks that lighten the escalating conflict between Ford and Harding. As Ford, James Blair modulates his character's development with skill, beginning with outward affability and only gradually revealing what a nasty specimen he is. Owen elicits great sympathy for Harding, essentially a nonentity who almost offhandedly displays some nobility of character.

Nearly 90 years after the time of the play, we know that Ford would not get what he wanted, and within two years, Harding would be dead of natural causes. The interest here is not waiting to see what happens in the end, but watching what happens along the way, and enjoying how these men interact. Under the neat direction of Betsy Kruse Craig, and enhanced by the evocative but compact set design by Tom Benson and subtle sound by Gail Fitzhugh, Camping With Henry and Tom is an easy hike into the wilderness of men's souls.

Camping With Henry and Tompresented by Invisible Theatre7:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m., Sunday, through Feb. 281400 N. First Ave.$22 to $

Strong performances abound in Invisible Theatre's latest production

Strong performances abound in Invisible Theatre's latest production

Strong performances abound in Invisible Theatre's latest production


Published: 02.19.2009

Extremely intelligent men do not have to be extremely intelligent all the time - just now and then. When it really counts.

The rest of the time - say, 90 percent of the time - they can be just as boneheaded and shortsighted as the rest of us.

Brian Wees (from left), Roger Owen and James Blair are in the Invisible Theatre's production of "Camping with Henry and Tom."
Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Invisible Theatre

That is the message in "Camping With Henry and Tom," when playwright Mark St. Germain projects an imaginary night-in-the-woods conversation on July 24, 1921, among Henry Ford, Thomas Alva Edison and Warren G. Harding (early in his term as president of the United States).
According to online accounts, it is historical fact that Ford and Edison regularly went on camping trips together between 1910 and 1920. However, it is not established why Harding was invited along on this particular excursion.

It is entirely fictional the three men were able to elude the press for an isolated evening to go mano-a-mano-a-mano promoting their favorite ideas, both political and personal. In the play, they are driving a government car through some dense woods near Licking Creek, Md., when a deer runs across the road. The car hits the deer, then crashes into a thicket.

It becomes a big plot point that the deer seems fatally injured, but none of the men has the courage to take a gun and put the antlered animal out of its misery (as people used to say). This kind of finicky attitude seems out-of-character for such high-ranking figures just a couple of years after America broke the military logjam of World War I.

Strong performances by the actors as world-class leaders free us to wonder about the "documented personal philosophies" mentioned in the playbill and portrayed onstage. Ford believes he is entitled to be elected president, feeling convinced human beings are like machines and as such can be controlled like machines. Edison is a grumpy genius unable to enjoy his success because he is convinced "they" are cheating him out of millions in royalty and licensing fees. Harding confesses "I've never had much of a killer instinct" and goes about proving it.

To think our nation was in thrall to such figures as these is a bit unsettling. Maybe that is the playwright's point. Forces were converging that led to the Great Depression - which set the stage for World War II, that gave birth to all the baby boomers as well as the military-industrial complex, followed inevitably by social upheaval and a conservative clamp-down on individual freedoms.

Because the play's direction is so crystal clear and the production so well cast, "Camping With Henry and Tom" reminds us how human nature hasn't changed very much over the past 85 years. If these three guys represent the brightest of the brightest back then, everyone else better start paying closer attention to the people in charge today.

James Blair is brilliant as Henry Ford. His role is the central one, showing how achievement in business doesn't qualify him to run the country. He is also anti-Semitic and lacking in a national vision. Blair takes the right line on becoming an international figure so myopic he can't understand why he doesn't get a groundswell of presidential support. Even more convincing, Blair gets the little details down in acting like a man used to wielding great personal power.

Comedy relief comes from Edison, played with slumped shoulders and a jowly look by Roberto Guajardo. It is entirely believable that if Edison was a curmudgeon, he would be a brilliant one.

The key role of balancing this pair of high-intensity egos goes to Roger Owen as Harding, tall and stately but squishy as an overripe banana. When he complains about never wanting to be elected president, we believe that, too.

What: Invisible Theatre presents "Camping with Henry and Tom" by Mark St. Germain
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 28
Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
Price: $22-$25
Info: 882-9721,
Grade: B+

Saturday, February 14, 2009

On stage Famous trio flings zingers in 'Camping' | ®

On stage Famous trio flings zingers in 'Camping' ®

Published: 02.13.2009
On stage Famous trio flings zingers in 'Camping'
By Gerald M. Gay

Had Thomas Edison been around to celebrate his birthday Wednesday night, he might have enjoyed watching himself in Invisible Theatre's production of "Camping with Henry and Tom."
He would have totally been into Roberto Guajardo's curmudgeonly portrayal, complete with the slow-going movements of an elderly Edison and a no-nonsense mope.

He might have even chuckled out loud along with the rest of the audience at the sarcastic zingers and one-liners Mark St. Germain wrote into the script for the prolific inventor.

Brian Wees, bottom, is a secret service agent, Roger Owen is Warren Harding and James Blair plays Henry Ford in IT's production.
Tim Fuller / Courtesy of Invisible Theatre

The play finds Edison, carmaker Henry Ford (James Blair) and President Warren G. Harding (Roger Owen) lost in the forest on a camping trip in 1921.

The three sneak out of a more formal encampment full of reporters to escape the public eye and end up hitting a deer that sends them crashing into the woods.

"You're the first man in history to try and assassinate a president with wildlife," Edison tells Ford shortly after the incident, the first of many ha-ha's weaved into this entertaining two-hour production based loosely on real events.

The camping trip actually happened. The rest of the scenario, from the great escape to all that followed, is a product of St. Germain's imagination.

His vision is a scene straight out of "The Breakfast Club," with all three men exposing their innermost flaws and emotions to one another by the campfire light.

Edison is quick-witted, but he is growing old and has lost all faith in politics and modern science.
Harding would rather be back in the Senate playing poker with his buddies than make decisions as president.

And Ford quickly reveals himself to be the jerk of the group. He has visions of grandeur and daddy issues. He is anti-Semitic and wants two things from Harding: a hydroelectric plant in Muscle Shoals, Ala., for next-to-nothing and to one day be president.
Ford's enthusiasm and exuberance turn into insults and blackmail when Harding doesn't immediately bend to his will.

"If you are not my friend, you are my enemy," Ford says to Harding well after revealing a team of researchers has been digging up dirt on ole Wobbly Warren.
The production, directed by Betsy Kruse Craig, is solid entertainment. Blair, Owen and Guajardo are convincing in their roles, and each adds a different dimension of character to the mix.
One of the play's strong points is its ability to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The country is shell-shocked from war. The president, who never wanted to be president in the first place, is a goof-off who fools around on his wife.
They are scenarios that have been as common over the last 20 years as they were in the 1920s.

"Camping with Henry and Tom"
• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
• Playwright: Mark St. Germain.
• Director: Betsy Kruse Craig.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 28. There also will be a 3 p.m. matinee on Feb. 28.
• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
• Reservations/information: 882-9721.
Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at 573-4137 or

Monday, February 9, 2009

FASHIONABLY PERVERSE: HITCHCOCK’S REAR WINDOW introduced by Invisible Theater's Susan Claassen | The Loft Cinema

FASHIONABLY PERVERSE: HITCHCOCK’S REAR WINDOW introduced by Invisible Theater's Susan Claassen The Loft Cinema

FASHIONABLY PERVERSE: HITCHCOCK’S REAR WINDOW introduced by Invisible Theater's Susan Claassen

Sunday, March 1st at 1:00 p.m.
Admission: $6.00 / Loft members: $4.75

Fear and fashion make a beautiful couple in Hitchcock's suspense classic REAR WINDOW, introduced by Invisible Theater's Susan Claassen, who will dish the dirt on legendary Hollywood costumer Edith Head's iconic designs for star Grace Kelly, Hitch's battles with the censors, and much more!

**Enter our free raffle to win a copy of the new 25th Anniversary edition of the classic book Edith Head's Hollywood, by Edith Head and Paddy Calistro, with a foreward by Bette Davis!**

The suspense. The binoculars. The Edith Head gowns!

Few films in Hollywood history have so creatively combined fashion and fear as Hitchcock’s nail-biting 1954 thriller REAR WINDOW, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. With its darkly twisted tale of voyeurism, murder and sexual tension, this perverse slice of vintage “Hitch” would be an all-time classic for those elements alone, but equally unforgettable is the breathtakingly blonde Grace Kelly, serenely gliding through all the madness in a stunning series of gorgeous gowns designed by legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head. As Lisa, the gorgeous fashion model with a killer wardrobe and nerves of steel, Kelly’s witty flirtations with a wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart steam up the screen in ways that drove 1950s censors mad back in the day and almost make today’s viewers forget that a sinister murderer may be lurking across one of the most famous courtyards in movie history.

REAR WINDOW’s fashionable perversity isn’t lost on Invisible Theater’s Artistic Director Susan Claassen, who will introduce this special screening by discussing Edith Head’s iconic costumes on display in the film, how fashion and fear fuel Hitchcock’s dark desires, and why conservative 1950s censors put Jimmy Stewart in a leg cast. Claassen, who offers an uncanny evocation of Edith Head as the star and co-writer of the internationally-acclaimed one-woman stage show, A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD (running March 5th – 8th at Invisible Theater), will offer wit, wisdom and insight (not to mention a little gossip) on the late, great Hollywood costumer designer, and reveal how Edith Head managed to spin high fashion beauty out of one of the scariest movies ever made.

See Susan Claassen live on stage in A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD, March 5th – 8th, at Invisible Theater.

Visit the Invisible Theater website at for more information.

(Alfred Hitchcock, 1954, 112 mins., Not Rated)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Play imagines trip by Edison, Ford and, curiously, Harding | ®

Play imagines trip by Edison, Ford and, curiously, Harding ®

Published: 02.06.2009
Play imagines trip by Edison, Ford and, curiously, Harding
By Kathleen Allen

When Mark St. Germain has a question, he writes a play.
That's what happened when he heard about a camping trip taken by President Warren G. Harding, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.

In the play, Thomas Edison (Roberto Guajardo, left), Warren Harding (Roger Owen) and Henry Ford (James Blair) go camping together.
Photo by Tim Fuller / Courtesy of Invisible Theatre

"I was curious why they (Ford and Edison) would invite Harding on a camping trip," St. Germain said in a phone interview from his New York City-area home.

"Harding was this totally ineffectual president and human being. I couldn't understand why they would want his company."

So he imagined why, and the comedy "Camping with Henry and Tom," which Invisible Theatre opens next week, was born.

St. Germain stuck to the truth as much as he could, bringing up Harding's mistress and illegitimate child, Edison's wit and Ford's political aspirations and bigoted ways.

"I think Edison is a lot of fun, my heart went out to Harding, but Ford was a very difficult man," said St. Germain.

"His prejudices were reprehensible, yet he changed the world with his method of making cars. There are these three giants, but they are human, they have their weaknesses."

Questions are at the root of most of what St. Germain writes for the theater — his 2006 play "The God Committee" came about when a friend's father had to have a transplant, and he began to wonder how people are selected for organs.

And the play he is currently working on, "Freud's Last Session," was inspired by an actual meeting between the atheist Sigmund Freud and the Christian writer C.S. Lewis.

"Camping" took St. Germain about five years just to think about and research before he sat down to write it.

As he thought, the characters came to life in his head.
"It gets to a point where you hear them speaking, and you kind of imagine the characters."
St. Germain has imagined characters for film and television, as well as for the stage.
"I do television and film to feed my addiction to plays," he said.
"I need the immediacy of the theater."

"Camping with Henry and Tom"
• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
• Playwright: Mark St. Germain.
• Director: Betsy Kruse Craig.
• When: Preview is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; opening is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Regular performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 28. There also will be a 3 p.m. matinee on Feb. 28.
• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
• Tickets: $16 preview; $22-$25 regular performances.
• Reservations/information: 882-9721.
• Cast: James Blair, Roberto Guajardo, Roger Owen, Brian Wees.
• Running time: 2 hours, with one intermission.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.