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All I Want Is One Night

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 14, 2018


Jessica Walker
Photo by Carol Rosegg

France's iconic chanteuse, the famous "little sparrow" Édith Piaf, was renowned for facing a life beset with endless blows and challenges with a determined proclamation of defiance: "Non, Je ne regrette rien" (I regret nothing). Hold on to that image while we talk about another French cabaret singer from the same era, roughly from the late-1920s through the post-World War II years. Her name was Suzy Solidor, and it would seem that, unlike Piaf, she regretted quite a bit, at least as she is portrayed in Jessica Walker's play All I Want Is One Night, opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival.

As Ms. Walker presents her, Suzy Solidor is a one-time toast of Paris who has long since been lost in obscurity save for the many portraits of herself she posed for, collected, and exhibited in her club and in a museum. There were, indeed, some 225 such works by the likes of Picasso, Erté, Dufy, Braque and others. Several of these are reproduced and displayed on one of the walls of the small theater, where about half the audience is seated at cabaret tables as if we were visitors to Solidor's boîte, La Vie Parisienne.

The paintings, along with some recordings and a couple of motion picture appearances, are what remain of Solidor's public image. All I Want Is One Night is intriguing for its efforts at fleshing out the person behind the portraits. Unfortunately, we are dependent on disjointed fragments of memories as filtered through the confused and self-serving mind of the frail, 80-year-old we encounter at the play's beginning.

When we first see the elderly Solidor (Ms. Walker), she is propped up on an oversized wicker chair, clinging to a treasured Man Ray photograph of herself and dressed like an admiral, "sea, sex, and sailors" being a recurrent theme in her life. She is being fussed over by her caregiver Giselle, whom Solidor often mistakes for her former lover Daisy (Rachel Austin plays both roles). Waiting to meet her is the Swedish artist Bengt Lindstrom (Alexandra Mathie), whose portrait of Solidor will be the singer's last. This gives us a framing device, but there is little else to provide us with a clear-cut plot. Instead, what we are presented with through the 65-minute play is a sketch of the life of the elusive performer whose biggest regret seems to be that she wasn't narcissistic enough. As she puts it, "had I simply stood in front of the mirror all the time, watching myself, surely my appearance would have stayed exactly the same."

With a narrator who declares that "time is collapsing," all we can gather are glimpses of a life, male and female lovers, a bit of a childhood in Brittany, a longing for a father she never knew, and a quick sweeping-under-the-rug of her relationships with Nazi officers during World War II (she was convicted as a collaborator after the war, a woman, one of her lovers says of her, "with so few scruples, you got through the war by fucking Hitler!").

Ms. Walker, who never seems anything other than youthful in appearance or performance whatever her character's age at any given time, sings some of the numbers from Solidor's act while walking about the room lightly flirting with those who are seated at the red cloth-covered cabaret tables. Walker has translated the French songs into English, which helps our understanding of the lyrics but which also sacrifices the Frenchness of it all, as do her and Rachel Austin's pronounced British accents. Only Alexandra Mathie manages to keep things credibly grounded with the five different male and female characters she plays.

If there is a touch of Édith Piaf (she and Josephine Baker are briefly mentioned in the play) in Solidor, there's even more of Marlene Dietrich in her. They shared a similar propensity for embracing sexual fluidity within their acts and personal lives, and both had deeper, darker singing voices that displayed an air of confident power. Walker includes a performance of "Lily Marlene," most closely associated with Dietrich, among the eight numbers she sings during the show. But overall, she does not seem right for the role that she has created. While she bears a resemblance to photos of Solidor, she is too soft in her delivery, too cautious with her interactions, and too sweet in her singing tone to be completely convincing. In the end, the potentially fascinating character of Suzy Solidor remains stubbornly out of reach.


All I Want Is One Night
Through July 1
Theater B at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral


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