Two one-man shows this season have something uniquely in common — the presence of the second (albeit absent) character -Barbra Streisand.
Making her Broadway debut in I’ll Eat You Last directed by Joe Mantello, the multi-talented Bette Midler portrays Sue Mengers, the legendary Hollywood agent. Midler, resplendent in a turquoise caftan, sprawls on a couch in her magnificent living room (set design by Scott Pask.) She doesn’t rise at all during the entire show, and even gets an audience member to come onstage to get her cigarettes and drinks.
After greeting the audience, she tells us that she’s having one of her famous A-list dinner parties but we are not invited because we are not “twinklies.” In fact, not even her mother would be able to attend.
Through the course of the play, she tells of her immigrant background, father’s suicide and her first job at the William Morris Agency. Aggressive and unstoppable, Mengers became one of the top agents in Hollywood, getting top salaries for her clients as she stole them from from other agencies. Mengers represented such performers as Gene Hackman, Sissy Spacek, Ali McGraw and,of course, Barbra. At the time of this story, Mengers’ star was waning. In fact, she explains that she’s waiting for a call from Barbra, who like many others, has left Mengers for representation elsewhere.
There's a lot of name-dropping in the show, many names which might not resonate with a younger audience. Midler is successful as the brash, no-nonsense,coarse Mengers, in part because the role seems very like like her own public persona. However, the audience seemed indifferent to story and even the character. Demonstrative Midler fans, they cheered as soon as she entered and laughed (perhaps too easily) at every story and four letter word. She could no wrong. However, at the end of the show, we knew a little of Mengers story but had no feeling about the woman at all.
With a glance and a wave of her hand, Midler had the audience well under control. The audience saw Bette Midler, not Sue Mengers, and that was fine with them.