She lies sprawled out in a lighter than air turquoise caftan (designer Ann Roth) on her luxurious sofa in her gorgeous Beverly Hills home (set by Scott Pask), with ripples of her swimming pool reflecting on her living room. Now, what famous or shall I say infamous movie star am I referring to? Well, none. It is 1981 at the home of the agent to the stars where we meet the enfant terrible Sue Mengers.
In the fun-filled tabloid solo show “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers” at the Booth Theater, who better a person to portray this brassy, crude and over the top late agent than the one and only Bette Midler. Mengers was larger and life and so is the ingratiating Divine Miss M.
As Mengers, she dishes, bitches, pouts all while sitting. Don’t think you can enjoy a show with the performer sitting comfortably on her sofa throughout? If it is Midler at the helm, you know you are in for more than a bumpy night. And why should she get up for a cigarette or something a bit stronger when she asks or rather commands a member of the audience to come on stage and do her fetching. Mengers would not dare lift a hand other than, perhaps, for a manicure.
Written by John Logan and smartly directed by Joe Mantello, we first meet Mengers as she is anxiously awaiting a call from her closest friend Barbra Streisand, who had her lawyers call the agent earlier to break news that she was being fired. With her long blond hair that Midler is constantly pushing back and fingernails that could reach out to the mezzanine, she needs that call from Babs because she is deeply hurt the way the superstar has treated her. Even though Midler is known for her outlandish concerts, she has shown what a true dedicated dramatic actress she can be. So, she is perfectly cast here portraying the diva like Mengers with her boisterous epithets to those she dislikes (legions, may I add), but also those moments where she is deeply affected when all those famous stars she represented who start to leave her.
She speaks about her life as the daughter of Jewish immigrants, her loving father who committed suicide and how she went from a secretary to Hollywood’s premier agent.
There is a litany of stars she speaks about. She adores Julie Harris and Gene Hackman along with Ali McGraw. Well, that is before Ali, against Sue’s wishes, married Steve McQueen. A family paper prevents me from using the choice words she had for the late actor whom she abhorred and felt ruined McGraw’s career. She used her clout to make sure that producer Robert Evans cast Faye Dunnaway in the classic film “Chinatown.”
There is some mention of Menger’s husband the Belgian director Jean-Claude Tramont whom she appeared to have a good relationship with.
The mark of any show like this one is for the star to make you want to know more and that is what Midler accomplishes so expertly. I am not sure how much she sounds like Mengers, since I do not recall ever hearing the late agent speak, but am sure she captures her persona from all I have read about her in the past.
I could go on and on describing what she says about all the other performers she has represented which is hilarious, but sadly unprintable. To find out more we can do lunch but as Sue would most likely say, “You pick up the tab.”