She dressed elephants and Audrey Hepburn, and apparently preferred the elephants. Hollywood’s most legendary costume designer dishes the dirt in a nostalgic one-woman show, “A Conversation With Edith Head,” written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen, now at the Pasadena Playhouse’s Carrie Hamilton Theatre.
On a Persian-carpeted set crowded with celebrity photos and Oscar statuettes, Miss Head (Claassen) holds court, reminiscing, quizzing audience members on movie trivia and critiquing their wardrobes (if you sit in the front row, wear good shoes). “What I do isn’t costume design,” Head explains. “It’s camouflage.”
She knew how to help an actor disappear into character. And with her trademark blunt bangs and round glasses, Head made sure she never competed with the divas she dressed. That savvy earned her eight Oscars and a 50-year career.
The show has some droll stories (how she bluffed her way into her first job) and the skinny on such stars as Bette Davis, who shared Head’s disdain for small talk (“We both knew it was a nice day”). Playing her host, Stuart Moulton is on hand to fact-check and nudge the tart Claassen toward new topics. (If you arrive early enough, you can submit a question by index card that Miss Head will answer onstage.)
The anecdotal aspect of the show is its pleasure and its weakness. The evening meanders a bit, and sometimes you wish Claassen revealed more secrets of the trade. The actress bears an uncanny resemblance to her subject, but tighter overall pacing and sharper turns would make for a bumpier night. Alas, no need to fasten your seat belts. But if you’re hooked on Turner Classic Movies and swoon at “Vertigo” or “Sunset Boulevard,” “Edith Head” will be right up your alley. Just leave the Nikes at home.
“A Conversation With Edith Head” Carrie Hamilton Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. No performances Nov. 22-23. Additional performance 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25. Ends Dec. 1 $40. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org or (626) 356-7529. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.