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I’ll Eat You Last

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i will eat you last

Laboratory Theater of Florida will present I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers by John Logan on July 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25 at 8 p.m. and July 25 at 2 p.m.

Sue Mengers was the first female ‘super agent’ at a time when women talent agents of any kind are Laboratory Theateralmost unheard of. In this high-powered one-woman show, Mengers invites you into her Beverly Hills home for an evening of dish, secrets, and all the inside showbiz stories that only Sue could tell …  like how Mengers got Gene Hackman his Oscar-winning role in “The French Connection,” got Faye Dunaway into “Chinatown” or how she tried to poach Sissy Spacek. And it’s always fun to get a glimpse of Hollywood when deals were deals rather than digital algorithms and when directors, producers and agents screamed obscenities at each other over the phone, then went on to make nice — and award-winning movies. The play’s 2013 debut American production starred Bette Midler.

On this page you will find announcements, releases, news and reviews for this production.

 

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Knapp delivers complex, nuanced portrayal of Hollywood agent Sue Mengers in Lab Theater’s ‘I’ll Eat You Last’ (07-11-15)

Mengers 01Based upon the hype, you might expect I’ll Eat You Last to be a string of stream-of-consciousness anecdotes about celebrities peppered with a liberal sprinkling of profanities, vulgarities and self-serving bravado reminiscent of Kathy Griffin’s “D List” stand-up comedy routine. But thanks to director Ken Bryant and actress Bonnie Knapp, Mengers 02what you’ll find when you attend this one-woman Lab Theater tour de force is a complex and nuanced portrayal of enigmatic super-agent Sue Mengers.

In lesser hands, Mengers may have very well emerged as something of a cartoon character – a brash, hard-boiled Hollywood agent who succeeded in the male-dominated business of the 1970s-90s by dint of tenacity, inventiveness and brazen chutzpah. But by reason of Knapp’s insightful portrayal, it becomes evident that the Mengers 03salty language, self-aggrandizing braggadocio, drinking and drugs function simultaneously as a crutch and carefully-constructed façade designed to enable Mengers to conceal a host of insecurities that would have kept Dr. Phil busy for an entire week. The vehicle that Knapp uses to open the cracks in her character’s armor that allow us fleeting glimpses into Menger’s very soul is alcohol and pot. The higher Menger gets as she swills drinks and chain smokes blounts, the more Knapp shows us the soft, sensitive side of her character – Mengers 06and the reason for her self-doubt. Mengers, we learn, was a German Jew whose family fled Europe ahead of Hitler and the Holocaust. Her dad committed suicide not long after settling his family in upstate New York, leaving his wife and daughter to survive as best they could in spite of being strangers in a strange land. As a young girl, Mengers’ accent was so heavy she chose isolation and loneliness rather than approach the cool kids on the playground. She got her start as a lowly receptionist at a talent agency, and had to prove herself at every turn to everyone, including herself.

What’s truly remarkable about Knapp’s performance is that not Mengers 08only must she appear to bare her character’s soul unintentionally, she has to do it in a way that realistically shows the progressive effect of the booze she downs and the pot she tokes without going all Foster Grant or allowing the audience to think that rather than losing her train of thought as she gets more and more stoned, she’s forgotten her lines. It’s a very narrow tightrope, but Knapp negotiates it with the aplomb of a Flying Wallenda, and the way you can tell is that by the end of the show, you will feel  deeply and genuinely sorry for this wreck of a human Mengers 09being even as she’s telling you to get the fuck out of her house. In fact, you’ll find yourself thinking about her the next day, and maybe even the day after that. And that’s how you’ll know that what you experienced was much more than some cardboard character dropping A-List names through the course of some rambling tale about old Hollywood. That’s when you’ll know that you had the pleasure of seeing some really good community theater.

This is Bonnie Knapp’s first one-woman show and Mengers 10her most challenging role to date. Other recent roles include Dottie in Noises Off, Margie in Good People, Matilde in The Clean House and Miss Fischer in A Picasso with the Naples Players. She also played Anne Ripley Smith in the Broadway Palm Theatre production of Bill W & Dr. Bob, as well as various other roles with the Sugden Community Theatre, TheatreZone and the Marco Players, where she has also directed.  Bonnie says that acting is her passion and a talent for which she is ever grateful. It shows.

Please see above for play dates, times and ticket information.

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Q & A with Director Ken Bryant about ‘I’ll Eat You Last,’ opening tonight at Lab Theater (07-10-15)

Ken and Stella 3Opening tonight at Lab Theater in the downtown Fort Myers River District is John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last: A Conversation with Sue Mengers. The show is directed by Dr. Ken Bryant, whose theatrical resume is provided below. I recently caught up with Dr. Bryant to discuss the show and its subject, super-agent Sue Mengers.

TH:  Having performed solo in A Christmas Carol two seasons ago, you’re no stranger to one-actor productions. What are the opportunities and challenges that you encounter when directing a one-woman show like I’ll Eat You Last?

Sue Mengers 01KB:  Charles Nelson Riley once directed a one-woman show and said his job was to sit back in the audience and say, “Beautiful. Keep it up, honey. That’s what I want you to do.”

TH:  Of course, he and you are oversimplifying the task at hand.

KB:  [Chuckles] On a serious note, a one-actor Sue Mengers 02show lets us really delve into the personality of the character being portrayed. You aren’t distracted by interactions with other actors and characters. Instead, the actor and director can focus on what makes this one character really tick. It makes it hard in some ways, but really amazing in other ways.

TH:  And what are the challenges?

KB:  In the normal, multi-character play, the characters typically define each other. For example, Character A is defined by how Character B reacts to Character A. Well, Sue Mengers 04in a one-person show, there are no other characters, so the identity of the character can only be taken from the lines [of dialogue the character speaks] and, if it’s a real person, the research you do into who that person was and how they acted. Of course, I always bear in mind something a teacher of mine once said, namely that we’re not doing real life, we’re doing theater. While in a show based on a real person, you do research to find out who that person was, in the end you’re not just doing an imitation of the person.

TH:  So you select certain personality traits and exaggerate them a little?

Sue Mengers 05KB:  Yes. Of course. First off, most character traits have to be exaggerated otherwise the audience won’t notice them. They get lost on stage. As an actor, I like to find little things I can grab ahold of to help me define the character. Sometimes in a one-actor show, a little personality trait becomes a real defining component of how that person is portrayed, and when you’re doing a one-person show like this, that becomes extremely important.

Sue Mengers 07TH:  How did you go about researching Sue Mengers?

KB:  It’s so much easier now than it used to be! These days, we have U Tube. With Sue Mengers, there happens to be a lot on her on U Tube. You can, for example, find her interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. You can find little pieces of her actually talking. And you can find bits of Bette Midler’s version of this play.

TH:  Is it helpful or harmful to reprise a role made famous by an actress as iconic as Bette Midler?

KB:  In this case it can hurt more than help. But Bonnie Sue Mengers 09[Knapp] decided right from the outset [of rehearsals] that she did not want to do the role in the same way. Midler gave Mengers a Long Island, Jewish accent, but Mengers went out of her way not to have any accent whatsoever. Sue Mengers was German and used to have a heavy German accent. She worked very hard to get rid of that accent. She learned to speak English by watching movies and did not substitue a Manhattan Jewish accent for the German once she tried so hard to eliminate.

TH:  So what personality trait do you focus on in this production?

Sue Mengers 11KB:  The fact that everything she said and did was calculated to make her clients more successful and increase her own reputation and power in the process. In the play, she’s waiting for a party to start in her home. That’s the premise of the play, and she pretty much sits several of her clients down with directors and producers in order to introduce them and try to get them jobs. It’s all about the stars she represents as her clients and how successful she was at representing them. People wanted to go to her parties because they Sue Mengers 12knew that if they got invited to one of her parties, they were going to be successful.

TH:  So she was always on the clock.

KB:  Very much so.

TH:  In many ways, Sue Mengers was larger than life, and like a queen holding court, she dominated any room in which she found herself, whether it was in her own home or at someone else’s house. How does Bonnie Knapp go about dominating “the room” given that “the room” in this context is an entire theater?

Sue Mengers 10KB:  She does a very good job of doing just that. Of course, the entire show is filled with anecdotes about actors, stars and directors, which draws the audience in. But she also interacts with various audience members, speaking to them as if they were in her home prior to her dinner party. She screams, she yells, she curses. Sue Mengers was a Sue Mengers 03very foul-mouthed person and held court very vocally – which is what Bonnie does in the show. She yells when she wants to yell. She fakes being sweet when she wants something. But she dominates from the stage and does a very good job with portraying Sue Mengers.

TH:  There’s a bittersweet aspect to this play, as well, isn’t there?

KB:  Yes. The show takes place after she’s peaked as an agent, and now her career is going downhill and so the Sue Mengers 13play is cast as a recollection of better times, with her recounting her good memories. But at the end, the audiences realizes that people are calling and cancelling and aren’t coming to her dinner party. So that part is sad or bittersweet.

TH:  Is this the first one-actor role Bonnie has played?

KB:  She’s had some really good roles in the past, but this is her first one-person show. So the audience is going to see a seasoned actor who’s really stretching her artistic envelop. The show is Bonnie, and she really does an excellent job.

I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers runs July 10-25. Please see above for play dates, times and ticket information.

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Bonnie Knapp portrays superagent Sue Mengers in Lab Theater’s ‘I’ll Eat You Last’ (07-08-15)

i will eat you lastChances are, you’re not a movie star, but if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to explore that golden realm where the gods and goddesses of the screen dwell, you’ll enjoy the next presentation at the Laboratory Theater of Florida. It’s I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers, running July 10 through 25.

Mengers 03For more than 20 years, bawdy and foul-mouthed Sue Mengers was one of the most successful agents in Hollywood. She could make a career merely by issuing an invitation to one of her A-list-only dinner parties. Her clients were the biggest names in show business, including Gene Hackman, Cher, and of course, Barbra Streisand. If her clients were the talk of the town, she was the town, and her dinner parties were the envy of Hollywood. John Logan’s one-woman play is a mouthwatering concoction, buoyant and witty. Subtitled A Chat With Sue Mengers, the single-character piece is exactly what it advertises – 90 irresistible minutes of prime tinsel-town one-liners and delicious anecdotes.

Bonnie KnappThe New York Times called the show “A delectable soufflé of a solo show,” and The Los Angeles Times wrote that “I’ll Eat You Last is both hilarious and mournful, a reminder that stardom can fade just as quickly as it flares.”

Portraying Sue Mengers will be Bonnie Knapp, whose work has been seen all over Southwest Florida, including the Naples Players, the Marco Players, TheatreZone, and the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater.

So, put on your party clothes. You’re invited into Sue’s glamorous Beverly Hills home for an evening of dish, dirty secrets and all the inside showbiz details only Sue can tell you.

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How a  dinner party inspired playwright John Logan to write story about superagent Sue Mengers (07-07-15)

John Logan 13This Friday, John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers opens at the Lab Theater in the River District. The play features legendary Hollywood agent Sue Mengers, who got Gene Hackman cast in The French Connection, persuaded Paramount to cast Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, and discovered Barbra Streisand singing in a dingy gay bar in Greenwich Village. Logan got the inspiration for the comedy after attending a dinner party at producer Richard D. Zanuck’s home in 2008.

“I was, by far, the least famous person at the table, so she didn’t have much time for me,” recalls Logan of the encounter. “But I John Logan 07was fascinated by her and persistent in my conversation volleys. Finally she deigned to glance over her tinted glasses and speak to me and I got a full-frontal assault of her famed superagent persona:  the wicked wit, constant cigarettes, lacerating asides, flowing caftan and stevedore language. When she lit up a joint and a cigarette at Mengers 01the same time, I was hooked.”

But Logan saw much more in Mengers than colorful language and hyperagressive behavior. He also found a sense of sadness and the deep resignation felt by a powerful woman whose time had passed. “Late in the evening I asked her what Mengers 05had changed most about Hollywood since she had arrived. She didn’t hesitate for a second: ‘Honey, we used to have fun.’ That Sue Mengers, bemused, self-aware and poignant, stayed with me and was finally the reason I wrote the play.”

But Logan did not base his play solely on the experience of that evening. He contacted Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who graciously arranged a series of interviews with Mengers’ clients, colleagues, friends and enemies. “He made the introductions and I sallied forth with steno pad in hand – a lot more fun than researching Mark John Logan 11Rothko for Red, I can assure you.”

The picture of Mengers that evolved from those interviews captivated Logan even more than that night in Zanuck’s home. “She was an astoundingly complicated woman. On one hand, she was an expert at playing the part of Sue Mengers: the glasses, the hair, the cigarette, the joint, the rough language, the diamond-edge timing, just killingly acid. But the thing that really fascinated me was a sort of vulnerability, a poignance, because this was a woman who was a queen, and she had reign in Hollywood, and that reign was over – partly due to herself and partly due to the way old Hollywood became new Hollywood.”

John Logan 12But even in old Hollywood, Mengers was unique. “In Sue’s day, she would pick up the phone, light a cigarette and begin to assault or seduce studio heads into doing exactly what she wanted. She was persistent and ferocious and alarming in equal measures. It was a Hollywood built on sociability, wit, cocaine and verbal dexterity. Those days are gone now. Maybe we’re better off, but I miss the wild morass that produced movies like Chinatown, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Klute, Star Wars, Cabaret and Paper Moon.”

Now if you’re still on the fence about going to Lab Theater to see this production, consider this. As a playwright and screenwriter, John Logan has bumped shoulders with some of the most i will eat you lastinteresting and high-profile actors, directors and producers in both Hollywood and on Broadway, and yet he found Mengers to be the one who was so compelling that he had to write a play about her life and times. Doesn’t that make you curious to see the story that unfolds on stage? Thought so. See you at the theater. Lab Theater, that is.

See above for play dates, times and ticket information.

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A Look at the superagent who inspired John Logan’s ‘I’ll Eat You Last (07-06-15)

Mengers 03On Friday, July 10, I’ll Eat You Last: A Conversation with Sue Mengers opens at the Laboratory Theater of Florida. It is the first play that Tony winner and three-time Oscar nominee John Logan wrote since his 2010 award-winning drama Red, which was based on artist Mark Rothko. I’ll Eat You Last brings another historical figure back to life, Sue Mengers, who died in 2011.

In the 1980s, Sue Mengers was the queen of Hollywood agents. At her height, Mengers’ stable of “twinklies” (the term she coined to refer to her clients) included Barbra Streisand, Candice Bergen, Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Ali MacGraw, Cher, Joan Collins, Burt Reynolds and Nick Nolte. Known as a bulldozer in Mengers 04caftan, she was wickedly witty, evisceratingly acerbic and yet poignantly vulnerable – all qualities that compelled Logan to choose her as the subject for a one-woman play that debuted on Broadway in 2013.

Mengers was born to Jewish parents in Hamburg, Germany in 1932. They were one of the lucky few who not only escaped the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, but were able to emigrate to the United States, landing in Utica, New York.

Her dad made his living as a travelling salesman until his suicide when Sue was just 11. Afterwards, her mother moved the family Mengers 07to New York City. Out of school, Sue went to work for MCA as a receptionist. At the time, MCA was the dominant talent agency in the country. Mengers would go on to work for several other agencies, including William Morris, rising through the ranks through a combination of intelligence, people smarts and chutzpah.

Mengers rose to prominence as a Hollywood agent at Creative Management Associates, a boutique agency that later morphed into International Creative Management or ICM. There, she discovered Barbra Streisand singing in a dreary gay club in Greenwich Village, got Gene Hackman the lead in The French Connection, persuaded Paramount production chief Bob Evans to cast Faye Dunaway in Mengers 02Chinatown, and advanced the careers of directors Bob Fosse, Brian DePalma, Sidney Lumet and Peter Bogdanovich.

“Years ago, you’d find Brando, Newman, and Coppola at her place, and indeed, dinner at Sue’s was like stepping into the Hollywood you imagined but almost never experienced,” wrote Grayton Mengers 08Carter in Vanity Fair following her death. “Her house was a John Woolf jewel, with great, tall Hollywood Regency doors and a living room that looked over a largely unused, egg-shaped pool. The room was awash with soft colors, Aubusson, and white orchids. Sue would sit at one end of the seating area, two large facing sofas flanking her and a chair at the other end. She held court, to be sure. But she always brought out the best in her guests. At Sue’s, everyone was funnier, and quicker, and smarter than they were anywhere else. And as a result everyone went to her place. For visiting friends from the East, such as Fran Lebowitz, Frank Rich, Alex Witchel, Maureen Dowd, Alessandra Stanley, and Lorne Mengers 09Michaels (along with assorted Feys and Fallons), she rolled out the single-name stars: Warren, Jack, Barbra, Elton, Ali, Anjelica, Candice, Bette, and Jennifer (Lopez and Aniston both), along with friends with last names such as Geffen, Diller, Poitier, Caine, Evans, Collins, Maher, Semel, Lourd, and Zanuck.”

Mengers 06“In Sue’s era, Hollywood was a very social business fueled by dinner parties, openings and cocaine,” explains Logan. “The people making landmark movies of that period knew each other and interacted on a certain level.” For good or bad, those days are gone, replaced by teams of financiers, marketers and publicists ruled by algorisms and P&L projections. “As the corporate identity of Hollywood changed, Sue’s very personal, very pungent, very aggressive brand of interaction with artists and studios ceased.”

But you can relive those days at Lab Theater this Friday when I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers opens in the River District. Please see above for play dates, times and ticket information.

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Spotlight on the storied career of ‘Ill Eat You Last’ playwright John Logan (07-05-15)

John Logan 06On Friday, I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers opens at Lab Theater. It is the latest offering by storied playwright/screenwriter John Logan.

If money is the yardstick by which to measure John Logan 02John Logan’s career, then Skyfall is his greatest success to date. Yes, Logan was the screenwriter for the most talked-about and biggest-grossing Bond film of all time, with Bond No. 23 having raked in more than $1.1 billion so far.

If Academy Award nominations mark the pinnacle of achievement, then perhaps Gladiator and The John Logan 09Aviator were his biggest hits. Logan gleaned an Academy Award nomination for co-writing Gladiator with David Franzoni and William Nicholson, which won Best Picture in 2000. He received another nomination for writing The Aviator (2004), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese.

John Logan 03If Tony Awards are the top, then Logan’s play, Red, represents his crowning achievement. About artist Mark Rothko, Red was produced by the Donmar Warehouse in London in December of 2009, and on Broadway in 2010, where it received six Tony Awards, the most of any play, including best play, best direction of a play for Michael Grandage and best featured actor in a play for Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne and Alfred Molina had originated their roles in London and also performed on Broadway, for a limited run ending in late June.

Logan’s began his career as playwright in Chicago. His first play, Never the Sinner, tells the story of the infamous Leopold and Loeb John Logan 04case. Subsequent plays include Hauptmann, about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and Riverview, a musical melodrama set at Chicago’s famed amusement park.

After a decade in the theater, Logan turned screenwriter. He wrote Any Given Sunday, the John Logan 05television film RKO 281, Star Trek: Nemesis, The Time Machine, The Last Samurai, and the Tim Burton-directed musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, for which he received a Golden Globe Award. More recent films include Rango, an animated feature starring Johnny Depp and directed by Gore Verbinski, the John Logan 08film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes, the film adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret directed by Martin Scorsese.

In spite of all his success in cinema, Logan regards film as a stimulating and lucrative sideline. “I’ve always loved the movies,” he says, “but when I wake up in the morning I’m still a playwright. Hollywood is not my world. My world is the theatre.”

John Logan 14Two new plays by Logan premiered in 2013. Peter and Alice, directed by Michael Grandage and starring Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw opened in London at the Noël Coward Theatre on March 25, 2013, and I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, directed by Joe Mantello and starring Bette Midler, opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre on April 24, 2013.

John Logan with Eva GreenBut television and film will always command a huge chunk of Logan’s time and creative energy. He created the 2014 television series Penny Dreadful starring Josh Hartnett, Eva Green and Timothy Dalton, for which he also serves as writer, and he is slated to write the next two Bond films, Spectre and Bond 25.

I’ll Eat You Last opens on Friday, July 10. See above for other play dates, times and ticket information.

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Dr. Ken Bryant to direct ‘I’ll Eat You Last’ (06-21-15)

Ken and Stella 1SLab Theater’s next Summer Stock show is I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers.

Dr. Bryant has worked a lifetime in theater, designing, directing, acting and teaching theatre in colleges across the country. He ran the Tennessee Williams Fine Art Center in Key West as its Artistic/Executive Director, was stage manager with Miami City Ballet, and even staged the opera The Marriage of Figaro in Poland. His many theatrical adaptations of classical plays are still Ken Bryant as Scrooge 1being enjoyed and workshopped for college students in the United States.

At Lab Theater, Ken has previously directed Deathtrap, Mr. Marmalade, Amadeus, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Five Kinds of Silence and The Nosemaker’s Apprentice. Two seasons ago, Bryant directed and gave an impressive one-man performance of Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. Ken will also be directing The Velocity of Autumn in January, 2016.

Dr. Bryant joined the Lab Theater family when he played the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father in Hamlet. Since then, acting roles have included Brabantio in Othello, Stanley in Death of a Salesman, Shelly in The Rimers of Eldritch, Wulfric in The Nosemaker’s Apprentice, and the infamous Ruckley in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

In addition to his long and illustrious creative resume, Dr. Bryant holds a Master’s degree in Shakespeare and a Doctoral degree in Dramatic Criticism. He is very proud to sit on Lab Theater’s Play Selection Committee.

See above for play dates, times and ticket information.

  1. Mark Cranford says:

    a reproduction of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon appear in 15 out of 19 images of the production in this article

    ‘His strangely shamanic art gives me a remnant of the pow I get from those ancient eternal faces in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Jerry Saltz on Mark Grotjahn’s large new paintings

    “I also take pleasure in the so-called negative power in Grotjahn’s work. That is, I love his paintings for what they are not. Unlike much art of the past decade, Grotjahn isn’t simply working from a prescribed checklist of academically acceptable, curator-approved isms and twists.” Saltz on Grotjahn June 2011
    the same can be said in regards to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

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