Hollywood tales, told with fury

TheaterWorks, Hartford: Sue Mengers sits by the phone waiting for a call from Barbra Streisand. Streisand’s lawyer fired Menger, but Barbra promised she would personally call her longtime friend and agent. The phone rings, but it’s actor Richard Dreyfus. He’s sorry, but he can’t make Sue’s dinner party. This is not a happy turn of events for the woman who was once hailed in the movie kingdom as “Superagent.”

Sue Mengers describes herself as a fat little Jewish girl who became Hollywood’s first female talent agent and who represented the cream of the acting crop. The actors she represented included the likes of Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway, and Burt Reynolds. “I’ll Eat You Last” is subtitled “A Chat with Sue Mengers” and the one-woman production is well presented as an intimate conversation between Mengers and the audience. She tells it all – all the dirty behind-the-scenes deals and she tells it using language that would make more than just sailors blush.

Playing the celebrated agent is Karen Murphy, who takes on all the airs of a Hollywood bigwig. Using exaggerated gestures and a highly affected accent, Murphy, decked out and often twisted in a colorful kaftan, conveys Mengers’ rise and fall. Murphy’s vocal intonations get tiresome, but she succeeds in presenting Mengers’ story. Cleverly written by John Logan and directed by Don Stephenson, the action also includes a person from the audience who answers Mengers’ beck and call. The person is selected randomly and involves some coaxing and laughter. The audience member is summoned throughout the production to fetch brandy from the onstage bar or to light Mengers’ cigarettes.

While the audience loves every second of the improvised respite from the onslaught of name dropping, the intimacy of the piece is solidified. Mind you, the names that are dropped are so recognizable and so stellar that the stories about them are of high interest. Ali McGraw, one of Mengers’ favorite clients was a fast-rising star until she married Steve McQueen, about whom Mengers had nothing good to say. She accused McQueen of not only being jealous of McGraw’s talent, but responsible for ending his wife’s career. He’s described as a misogynist who especially hated Mengers and the sordid details are openly exposed.

Of all the stories that are told during the 80-minute play, the one that really conveys the aggressiveness of Sue Mengers is the one where she drives to a casting director’s home and blocks his car until he agrees to let her client audition. She stopped at nothing to get her actors work, but that all collapsed when she signed Streisand up for a movie that was a great big flop. That was the beginning of the end for this bigger-than-life agent.

Overall, this work is entertaining, especially when talk is about never-before-reported goings-on. The show plays through Aug. 23. Box office: 860-527-7838.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association.  She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com