“All I Want Is One Night,” she sings sultrily and with a hint of sadness. She is Suzy Solidor, embodied on the 59E59 stage by devotee Jessica Walker, who wrote the play and also tran slated Solidor’s lyrics from the original French. Walker’s muse is one who gave inspiration to some of the most famous and infamous names in modern art. She lived not only openly but in the spotlight as a lesbian before and during the Nazi invasion and occupation of France.
In her time, Solidor was very much an It Girl, “the most painted woman in the world,” with hundreds of admirers and the hottest nightclub in Paris. She was a singer of songs that would be considered graphic by today’s standards, much less those of 75 years ago. Though she was said to have had relationships with men, she was also a notorious womanizer — an incredible claim for her time. But then she faded, succumbing to age and then falling into obscurity.
Rachel Austin and Jessica Walker
All I Want Is One Night begins at the end, the aged and unraveling woman a caricature of her former self, before shifting back to the bright lights of the golden girl’s sunny days. The play’s timeline from there on is somewhat murky, with events unfolding without much detail to provide historical context. It isn’t long before we meet Suzy’s longtime amour, Daisy Marie Therese Bartholomi, Baroness de Vaufreland, here played by Rachel Austin. Artists and admirers come and go, most notably the painter Tamara de Lempicka, played by Alexandra Mathie, who has a heaping handful of characters to play throughout the show.
From the first, there is an ongoing battle of words between Daisy and Suzy. They love in conflict, often at odds even with themselves over what importance the other carries. Suzy takes on various lovers. Daisy, however, remains true. There is little context for chronology over the course of their ongoing back and forth, the exception being the point at which a Nazi officer enters the club, making eyes at Solidor and proffering a document which she signs sitting in his lap. This interaction, and other brief encounters with Nazi officers, are an affront to Daisy, though she reaffirms her commitment to their relationship.
This is the point in the play at which a fascinating story is teased — a story of Solidor as more than a spoiled egotist, of risking life and limb, sacrificing herself for a cause greater than herself. There’s a suggestion by Walker that Solidor became involved with the Partisans, possibly even using her Aryan looks and irresistible sex appeal to help resist the fascist tide.
Was she turning Nazi heads so they wouldn’t see her assisting Resistance fighters or helping Jews escape? This story remains sadly untold. If there is documentation to support the claim, as Walker suggests, it would be a remarkable turn indeed. Instead, there is just that passing comment, a missed opportunity to see the singer as even more than someone living Out ahead of the sexual revolution.
What we do see is that Solidor was tried and exiled from France for being a Nazi collaborator. She eventually returned and lived out the last decades of her life in her homeland. However, predictably, the pain over the loss of her youth predictably drives her to drink, which makes her unpleasant to be around and only exacerbates her troubles.
Walker cuts a striking figure as Solidor, with her pixie-short platinum blond hair and sparkling dark-rimmed eyes. She smiles haughtily, flirtatiously, engaging the audience throughout, ruffling hair as she slinks between candlelit tables to the lovely sounds produced on piano and accordion by accompanist Joseph Atkins. Her songs carry all the feeling that she otherwise hides from her friends and lovers. It’s a beautiful performance that changes to heartbreaking as Solidor ages without grace.
Unhappily fatter and unceasingly cantankerous, she insists on being called Admiral and dressing in a Navy uniform. She drinks whisky for breakfast and constantly thereafter. With her mind breaking apart, she can’t always tell the difference between her lost love Daisy and the young beauty she keeps as a sort of lover-cum-housemaid, GiGi (also played by Austin).
By story’s ends, the good feelings and happy days have gone. There is no way to sustain a relationship with someone like Suzy, who’s at once so dependent and so contemptuous and disparaging. Disdainful youth takes advantage of age’s weakness, and it isn’t surprising in the least. The final moments suggest destruction, but it would be unlikely someone of Solidor’s enormous ego would choose to do so much to damage that which she admires above all else: herself. Suzy Solidor passed in 1983, the It Girl is mostly forgotten. She remains young and beautiful even now, however, dozens of times over, captured forever in paint and light. And in song.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Top photo: L-R: Joseph Atkins, Jessica Walker, Alexandra Mathie
All I Want Is One Night
By Jessica Walker
Music Director, Joseph Atkins
With Rachel Austin, Alexandra Mathie, Jessica Walker, and Joseph Atkins
Playing at 59E59 Theaters through July 1, 2018