THEATER REVIEW: “Lempicka” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
Photograph by Daniel Rader
There was woman, born to a Jewish father and Catholic mother in Warsaw, Poland, in 1898. In Petrograd Russia, she married a wealthy Polish lawyer who was arrested in the midst of the Russian Revolution in 1917. After he was freed, they journeyed with their infant daughter to Paris where she became a celebrated artist who led a hedonistic life style typical of the French artistic community in the 1920s. Her controversial yet popular work was identified only by her last name. She is the central character in the world premiere musical Lempicka at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
This production has the same driving music and narrative as the larger-than-life style of Evita, Les Miserables and others of the 1970s and ’80s. Lempicka’s life story is as dramatic as Eva Peron’s and as dark as Jean Valjean’s and, perhaps, more touching.
After Tamara de Lempicka (Eden Espinosa) extricates her husband, Tadeusz Lempicki (Andrew Samonsky), from prison, their life in Paris is hard. Since he does not want a menial job, which he believes is below him, she works as a waitress. She finds herself becoming fascinated by painting and takes lessons until she develops a form that complements her personality. Her interpretation of art deco utilizes bold, clashing colors in dynamic, highly stylized portraits and nudes. She paints a series using her daughter Kizette (Alexandra Templer) for her model. As her fame increases and she becomes more involved in the unconventional side of the art world, she has numerous affairs with both men and women, some of whom are subjects of her work. In particular, Lempicka has a lengthy affair with a street prostitute, Rafaela, played by Carmen Cusack. Divorced by Tadeusz, she marries, her lover, Baron Kuffner (Nathaniel Stampley). In 1939, with the growing power of the Nazis, they emigrate to America. Her life covers the 20th century and historical moments become an integral part of the plot. The show is not totally factual, while it follows the outline of her life.