by Susan Hasho
On any level treading the edge of sexuality is risky and sexy. You’d think in 2018, nothing would be particularly unusual or shocking. The thrill of Jessica Walker’s All I Want Is One Night is that she creates as a performer and playwright a world in which danger and glamour and delusion and talent are mixed altogether with commerce. And in that world circling like a haunted muse—she gives us a glimmer of Suzy Solidor.
Suzy Solidor became a popular singer in 1930’s Paris and opened a chic nightclub called La Vie Parisienne. Her publicity idea was to have as many portraits of her painted by as many famous artists as possible and to hang them on the walls of her nightclub. If she thought one was unflattering, it was hung near the bathroom. She was openly gay and her club attracted a diverse group of socialites, artists, literati, and during the Occupation, German soldiers. The play spans approximately 1935‒1980.
All I Want Is One Night opens close to the end of Solidor’s life. She is dressed like an admiral having her portrait done by Bengt Lindstrom. The weave of this night begins there. Giselle is there as some sort of an assistant for Solidor but also an object of seduction. The first song of the evening “Les Filles de St Malo” sets us up for the relationship the audience will have with Solidor. After the first strains of the song come on, she leaves the stage to change. Lindstrom transforms into the Maître D and Solidor returns wearing a lovely clingy evening gown and weaves through the audience, flirting here and then there. She moves close to one, then another audience member, depending on who you are, maybe too close, maybe not. A woman named Daisy –Daisy Marie Therese Bartholoni – Baroness de Vaufreland (the transformed Giselle) is noticed standing in the corner. The song “Ouvre” begins the seduction of the innocent Daisy: “Open your beating heart to mine/ I want to kiss your lips so much/ Loosen your delicate chemise/ And let me touch.”
Tamara De Lempicka appears and she is the one to paint the most famous portrait of Solidor. Discussion ensues about who is to pay for the painting and then the title song: “All I Want Is One Night,” moves Solidor back into the audience. A story about the one man she really loved moves into the song “Escale” by Marguerite Monnot—the song is a sad remembrance of that man. This nightclub performance/play is an evocation of a time both romantic and dark, and Jessica Walker paints her own portrait of Suzy Solidor: opportunistic salesperson of flirt and release. Charismatic and clever enough to exploit her talent for support and a clearly ravenous need for fame. Her survival skills are at full tilt when singing: “Lili Marlene” for the German soldier Lieutenant Niebuhr: “We’re all sleeping with the enemy in our own small way. It’s called making the best of things.”
In Solidor’s final years she is alone visited by ghosts—her father, Giselle, Lindstrom, Daisy and always the paintings hanging on the back wall of the theater. Robbed and feeling old, who does she shoot— herself or the paintings?
Jessica Walker sings the songs she translated from the French with beautiful simplicity. Her subtle performance of this fascinating woman saves this evening from any possible cliché and the supporting actors are equally as faceted and real. Alexandra Mathie as Lindstrom, Tamara de Lempicka, Niebuhr, Bambi and Suzy’s father is a strong, deeply versatile actor. Rachel Austin as Giselle and Daisy switches completely into these two women and provides the perfect foil for Jessica Walker. Original Direction by Sarah Frankcom and Revival Direction by the Company. Musical Direction and seamless charm by Joseph Atkins.
Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org thru Sunday July 1