“The season this year is kind of from a woman’s perspective,” says Village Rep’s artistic director Keely Enright of the theater company’s upcoming season, which kicks things off this weekend with the one-woman play, I’ll Eat You Last. First performed in 2013, playwright John Logan’s one-act play is about Sue Mengers, the first female “superagent” in Hollywood and set in 1981, with Mengers reflecting on her time in showbiz.
As Enright sees it, I’ll Eat You Last has some critical subtext that unknowingly nods to the #MeToo movement, written years before Harvey Weinstein became a pariah and Hollywood finally started owning up to what was happening behind closed doors. “The thing that strikes you is what isn’t said, but what’s alluded to in this play,” says Enright.
“We all find ourselves in her living room,” notes Enright of the show’s setting. “She’s [Sue] waiting for a call from Barbra Streisand. It’s a night with her.” Performed by Bette Midler in L.A. in 2013, the L.A. Times called the show, “a helluva a lot of fun to watch,” noting that Midler nails the persona of “the hard-boiled dame with a penchant for profanity, a suitcase full of zingers and a soft, sticky center.” That’s a lot to live up to for the actress playing Mengers, Susie Hallat.
“It’s brutal for the actress who plays Sue [Hallat]. It’s like 60 pages of dialogue, story after story after story that she has to convey like it’s off the top of her head,” says Enright. And the stories — as one might imagine — are ones of the nitty gritty stuff that Mengers has seen go down in Hollywood. You know, the gossip, who’s sleeping with who — the usual. And Mengers doesn’t hold back in her storytelling.
“There’s a lot of language,” laughs Enright. “She makes no bones, she’s very brash, politically incorrect. She loves the business of show business.” Enright imagines that on its surface the play might offend those younger audience members — as the Times notes, “The subject matter will certainly resonate with people of a certain age in L.A., where many still remember the woman who was once the most powerful agent in the male-dominated entertainment biz … when people screamed obscenities at each other over the phone, then went on to make nice.”
Those good ol’ days — what Mengers refers to as the demise of the old school agent and the rise of the CAA (Creative Artists Agency) in the mid-’70s. As Enright describes it: “The Armani-clad men that would take over the world of Hollywood agencies.”
“What isn’t said — but what is very much there is what that meant,” says Enright. “The people like Sue, when they went away they were replaced with a slick, smooth lawyer type facade. Agents were about the commodity and not about the person. It’s an interesting subtext to the show.”
“What’s frustrating and great about the play is — she’s really offensive. She grew up in the boys’ club world where you had to smoke and cuss and drink to be taken seriously,” says Enright. “My hope is that ‘big picture’ Sue is what’s taken into account — that she’s not vilified for certain aspects of her personality, but at the end of the day she’s someone you would have wanted. Because we don’t have enough women in power in this industry. She was a trailblazer in her own right and her own time.”