Sue Mengers was the Hollywood “superagent” to the stars. In her long career she represented such A-List talent as Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, Faye Dunaway and many more. Her reminisces are the substance for the wisp of a show, I’ll Eat You Last, playing at Theaterworks in Hartford through August 23rd. The show, a hit on Broadway, because of the star power of The Divine Bette Midler in the title role, is a one woman production starring Karen Murphy as the foul-mouthed, self-centered and supremely confident Mengers.
Ms. Murphy, as Mengers, sits in her living room overlooking the Hollywood hills and looks back at her life while waiting for a phone call from Ms. Streisand who has just jumped ship to another agency. While she waits we are given highlights of her personal and professional life in a rambling, bawdy, cigarette and alcoholic fueled, 80 minute, intermission-less monologue. Ms. Mengers and her family fled Nazi Germany and then, in succession, settled in Utica, New York and the Bronx before beginning her career as a receptionist at the MCA talent agency in New York City. In a short time she moved to various agencies as a secretary before breaking into the business as a full-fledged agent.
Sue Mengers was a larger-than-life personality and, therefore, the actress playing the role needs to possess the same out-sized traits. Karen Murphy, while a fine comedic actress (her turn as the tart-tongued General Cartwright in Goodspeed’s recent Guys and Dolls is a good example) is not someone with an imposing, towering and charismatic personality the part needs. This makes her chronicling and entertaining anecdotes come across as mere stories as opposed to captivating, personally lived moments.
Playwright John Logan has cobbled together a series of humorous, lively and absorbing yarns that keeps our interest, but the production feels like an afterthought in his various writing projects.
Director Don Stephenson keeps Ms. Murphy busy lighting cigarettes, taking frequents hits on a joint, sipping spirits and eating candy, but that’s the extent of their collaboration. Mostly, she sits on her white couch and delivers off-color accounts from her past and 1960’s-1970’s cultural references.
I’ll Eat You Last, playing through August 23rd.