Kara Wilson may be the ultimate hyphenate, bringing her talents as a writer, actor, singer, and artist to her portrayal of Tamara de Lempicka, the Polish-born, Paris-based painter of the 1920s and '30s. Wilson also directed herself in this piece, which she has been performing since the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She has well absorbed her subject, and presents an engaging glimpse into the glamorous life of a celebrated art-deco figure. (The script was adapted from "Passion By Design," a memoir by Lempicka's daughter, Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall, and Charles Phillips.) In this case, another director might not have added anything.
We meet Lempicka in her Paris studio in 1939, halfway through her 82-year life. She's forgotten that she is to be interviewed and is soon to leave for a party, which accounts for her costume, a fetching emerald green gown (by Katharin MacBain), soon covered with a smock so she can paint. She needs the next hour to work, so will talk as she paints -- no questions please. We hear of Lempicka's childhood in Poland, adolescence in Russia, and arrival in Paris as a wife and mother who only then took up painting. Her friends are famous (Chanel, Modigliani, Picasso), her pictures mostly portraits.
As she tells Tamara's story, Wilson sings five songs in four languages, from Chopin to Cole Porter (played by pianist Kicki Moxon-Browne, arranged by Tom Conti, Wilson's husband). She also recreates one of Lempicka's oil paintings, "The Dream," a portrait of "my beautiful Rafaella." At each show's end, the copy is sold.
That end comes a bit too quickly, and not just because we "interviewers" are beginning to wonder if Wilson will finish the painting on time. Like art deco itself, Wilson concentrates on the surfaces of her subject, leaving us wanting to know even more about this charming if self-involved artist.