Originally published at www.theatrius.com
“I’ll eat you last” is the caustic last sentence the renowned Hollywood talent agent Sue Mengers imparts to clients who left her or displeased her. Her promise or threat best represents her wit and confidence.
Set in the 70s, John Logan’s one woman show takes place on an elegant antique settee, with three white gothic arches behind her, flanked by giant potted plants. Scenic Designer Alexis Orth gives us the airy feeling of a garden, inside Mengers’ Beverly Hills mansion.
As Mengers, Deborah Joves seduces us with a “you-know-what I mean” intimacy. “Actors,” she explains, “don’t have problems. They have travails.” She drops “A” List stars’ names more quickly than flashing traffic lights: Warren Beatty, Ali MacGraw, Gene Hackman, Julie Christie, Charles Bronson . . .
In the lobby, the old Pacifica Spindrift Players theater displays an impressive wall of photos that feature Mengers’ famous clients.
At her wild Hollywood parties, Sue exclaims, “All business deals are brokered.” But tonight, she is waiting for a call from her best friend and top client for years, Barbra Streisand—who has just fired her!
She slips over that hurt to share two party rules with us: “All business all the time. And absolutely no children.” Sue has “had an aversion to kids from childhood.”
Escaping from Hitler’s Germany, she learned English through TV and movies. She always felt that she was “outside looking in,” a phrase that serves as a foundation to her psychological viewpoint.
Opinionated and unapologetic, Mengers rattles off humorous monologues and gossip about her life in the entertainment world. She emphasizes the challenges she faces as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Through her bravery and forthrightness, she becomes a role model for other women. But she warns, “The skin of dreams is so thin,” and Hollywood is just the place to pierce those dreams.
Director Paul Smith sets Joves’ a steady pace. She sips liquor, repositions pillows, and captures our interest with her hands and expressions. Joves does not leave the settee during the swift 75-minute run.
Mengers’ strengths as a talent agent are listening and watching. In grammar school, she learned to be “Outside looking in.” “Become the client’s mirror,” she suggests.
She drove to Sissy Spacek’s pig farm in a jeep. “I don’t do jeeps. General Patton does jeeps.” She lost her Chanel heels in pig slop but signed Spacek for Scarface.
Beneath the humor lurks the anxiety of Barbra’s imminent phone call. They are both fatherless, both Jews from the New York City boroughs, and both star obsessed.
One funny anecdote: After the Manson murders, Barbra confides to Sue about her fears. “Don’t worry, honey,” Sue tells her. “Stars aren’t being murdered. Only featured players.”
Sue and Barbra have sailed the treacherous seas of Hollywood for decades together. Their bond is unbreakable—until it breaks.
“I’ll Eat You Last” tells the story of a woman who achieves her dreams temporarily. Jove takes us on a roller coaster full of conflicting feelings—from laugh-out-loud funny to painful disappointments. Playwright John Logan artfully depicts the rise and fall of a powerful Hollywood superagent.
Come see this rich tribute to an outstanding personality.
“I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers” by John Logan, directed by Paul Smith, at Pacifica Spindrift Players, Pacifica, California. Info: SpindriftPlayers.org – to May 28, 2023.
Cast: Deborah Joves
Photo: Doug Greer