Regional Reviews: Phoenix
I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers
The play is set in Mengers' Los Angeles living room on the day in 1981 that she was dumped as the agent of her longtime friend Barbra Streisand. But it was Streisand's lawyers and not Streisand herself who severed the ties. While Mengers waits for Streisand to call her, assumably to make peace since they've been friends for so long, Mengers holds court on her couch, with a full cocktail shaker of martinis and plenty of cigarettes and joints at the ready. The time spent waiting for the call affords Mengers the opportunity to reflect back on her past as well as on recent events that led to Streisand's decision to fire her.
Sue talks about how, when she was just a young girl, she and her parents fled Germany and Hitler and ended up in Utica, New York. She recounts learning English by watching American movies and how that made her fall in love with the idea of becoming an actress in Hollywood. When she got up the gumption one day to introduce herself to the most popular and prettiest girl in school, her belief in herself was boosted. While the career in acting didn't pay off, a job as a receptionist at the William Morris Agency was her foot in the door, and when another agent believed in her, she got her start to becoming the most popular woman agent in town.
Logan has crafted an intriguing play that is chock full of lessons and antidotes from this self-made woman who loves to trade juicy chatter and tell personal stories about some of Hollywood's biggest stars. But it's more than just a gossip fest as Logan interweaves commentary about the difficulties of being a woman in a male-run business and how the corporate takeover of Hollywood and the management agencies resulted in those like Mengers, who were laser focused on the clients' best interests, to lose those clients when they left for bigger companies who lured them away with talk about "merchandising synergy" and "back-end residuals options." Mengers ruled in the rebellious 1970s when Hollywood made message movies, but now it's the 1980s: films are being made by committee and corporations have begun to take over the Hollywood studios. Mengers finds herself no longer holding as much control as she previously had.
Decked out in a colorful caftan, with big hair and wearing large eyeglasses reminiscent of the period, Laura Durant makes a striking image. She manages to breathe a wide range of realistic emotions into Mengers' larger-than-life personality–all without moving off of a couch. Director Rosemary Close and Durant do a very good job of making the delivery of the material exciting and ensuring that every joke in the script gets a big laugh. It's also not just a performance where Durant as Mengers is patting herself on the back and listing her accomplishments, but one shaded with many moments of humor and heartbreak. Durant is excellent in connecting the dots in Logan's script, and in the stories that Mengers recounts of her past and her dealings with her clients, to add up to a greater whole that allows us to see and understand this woman, warts and all.
While on the surface, I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, may seem like an 85-minute comedy all about Hollywood gossip, it's actually a rich discovery of one woman's journey to the top of the Hollywood power ladder through her own persistence and dedication to her clients. In iTheatre Collaborative's winning production, Laura Durant beautifully evokes a richly detailed and memorable portrait of this formidable woman.
iTheatre Collaborative's I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers runs through March 5, 2022, at Herberger Theater Center, 222 E Monroe St, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.itheatreaz.org.
Director/Producer: Rosemary Close