When the lights go up on I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, there is no doubt that you are in the presence of royalty. The scene opens on a throne room in the Hollywood hills; a lavishly decorated parlor of indeterminate dimensions, the defining edges of it shrouded in darkness.
The throne is an ornate sofa with plush, vibrantly colored throw pillows piled deep. So many as to effectively reduce the seating area from three to just one very important person. A vintage antique telephone and jewel-studded cocktail shaker sit upon a polished contemporary coffee table. An ample stash of cigarettes and weed transport this scene into the 20th Century.
Upon the throne, nestled between those plush pillows, sits an elegant woman with a lion’s mane of silver hair. She wears a flowing, hot pink caftan dress and simple, elegant slippers. It is a self-embracing ensemble that lets us know, in no uncertain terms, who owns the room. By way of acknowledging our presence, our hostess glances around indifferently. We are not the guests she is waiting for, but we’ll do, for now. The queen holds court.
Laura Durant as Sue Mengers doing her favorite things: drinking, smoking and dishing.
(photo credits (R to L): Chris Murray, Nathaniel Burns, Chris Murray)
Laura Durant plays the role of famed Hollywood agent Sue Mengers with equal parts cynicism and relish. Durant is in her element. A quintessential storyteller in her own right, an observer of and a commentator on every comedic or tragic event of the world, the transition to Sue Mengers must have felt as seamless as slipping into that hot pink caftan.
Durant embodies Mengers with an understanding of those elements of Mengers’ personality that had caused her to crave intimacy while forcing distance; to feign gregariousness, even as she huddled alone with her insecurities. Durant’s Mengers is a larger-than-life presence that embraces the facade while revealing the vulnerability. Through Durant’s characterization we see, thankfully, notes of Mengers compassionate side, even as she attempts to shroud them in wit and haughtiness.
Words of advice from Laura Durant as Sue Mengers.
(photo credits: Nathaniel Burns)
I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers is not, in itself, a work of brilliant theater. Instead, it is a vehicle to showcase the brilliance of the actor fortunate enough to play the eponymous role of Sue Mengers. As that individual carries the weight of the play on her shoulders, her task is to find the most interesting and engaging attributes of Ms. Mengers, and present them during the course of a stream of consciousness monologue, performed between puffs at cigarettes and gulps of alcohol from her bottomless shaker.
There are many instances of actresses using Sue Mengers as a model for their characterizations. It is common practice, especially when the subject is so identifiable and hard-edged. But it is the gray area of Mengers personality that provides the fodder for Durant to channel Mengers — not a suggestion or a version of her, but the Hollywood icon herself — and in a believable and sympathetic way. Durant finds success by keeping Mengers grounded in the starmaker’s waning self-image. It is a performance that is at once bawdy yet tragic, cynical yet pragmatic, unapologetic yet reflective. Laura Durant manages, in this brief “chat with Sue” to embody all that Mengers was and was imagined to be.
The Kax is an intimate space on the verge of expansion. Nestled in the heart of Phoenix next to its older, larger sibling, the Herberger Theater Center, the Kax is a proving ground for emerging playwrights, experimental theater, and iconic one act plays such as I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, which have already found success both on and off Broadway.