Theater review by Adam Feldman. Booth Theatre (Broadway). By John Logan. Dir. Joe Mantello. With Bette Midler. 1hr 15mins. No intermission.
“Kiddies, is there anything more sublime than hosting 12 of your nearest and dearest for an evening of good chat?” asks Bette Midler, pitching camp as the gossip-loving Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers. “That’s what we do here: We dish.” I’ll Eat You Last is dish served cold. Set in 1981, John Logan’s affectionate 75-minute monologue plants Mengers on a sofa in her airy hacienda, smoking pot and rehashing tales from her 1970s heyday. Her client list included, at some point or other, Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, Faye Dunaway, Julie Harris and Michael Caine; she has war stories about some of them, though the details are not very gory. Between cheerfully vulgar one-liners, Mengers charts her own rise from “fat little German Jewess” to La-La Land starmonger, without digging deep enough to yield much dirt.
A live-action piece of Vanity Fair puffery, littered with boldfaced name-dropping, I’ll Eat You Last exists primarily as a platform for Midler’s return to the Broadway stage in her first nonsinging role. The part itself—brassy, bossy, warmly outré—fits neatly into her comfort zone, and it’s enjoyable at first to watch her hold court in tinted glasses and a powder-blue muumuu, drawing out her consonants like slingshots for her vowels, gabbing about whatever pops into her Beverly Hills kop. But Midler never quite settles into character. The jokes, tossed off with a hint of Sophie Tucker, sound like concert patter minus the songs; dramatic moments sink into labored schmaltz. Perhaps her performance will improve with time, but for now it’s a shticky wicket.—Adam Feldman
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