Come Into the Cool
Come in from one of the hottest weekends of the year in Milwaukee. Slide in through the elegant revolving door and you’re there in a stylish, little boutique hotel managed by Kimpton: a San Fransisco-based company. Feels very classy as you walk-up a few stairs and around the corner to a spacious, well-lit area that serves as the performance space. Outside it’s hot and uncomfortable. Inside it’s lavish, luxurious and sumptuously air conditioned. The stylish comfort is actually kind of disorienting at first: is this the Third Ward or San Fransisco? You may not know quite where you are, but you’ll know you’re cool, which is a perfect way to walk into I’ll Eat You Last. The one-weekend-only show staring Marcee Doherty-Elst is an Untitled Productions/Theater RED affair with a couple of performances left this weekend.
Here’s Your Pack of Cigarettes: Go Have a Drink
It’s probably one of the coolest theatre programs I’ve ever been given: an empty prop pack of cigarettes filled with “bio cards” in the form of business cards. The VIP package includes a business card that gets you a free drink at the high-end bar on your way in. You’re actually paying for your drink with a business card, which just seems so...Hollywood. (Very cool.) The play is about Sue Mengers: a chain-smoking Hollywood agent who really made a name for herself in the ‘70s. A prop cigarette pack filled with business cards sets the mood perfectly. Since this is Wisconsin, I order a Brandy Old Fashioned and head out to sit down in a very comfortable chair right next to the stage.
A Big Kind of Intimacy
The furniture in the space has a big, wide feel about it. The stage has a big, wide feel about it. There’s a couch onstage the looks like it could be a bed. The lighting deities at Antishadows LLC have lit a space that feels positively decadent. Pick-up a complimentary gourmet popcorn on your way to whatever seat you happened to feel drawn to and let the show wash over you. Sit down and you sink into a surprisingly luxurious 70 minute show without intermission.
Oddly Inspirational: Marcee Doherty-Elst as Sue Mengers
Motivational speakers don’t generally lounge around smoking cigarettes while waiting for a call from Barbara Streisand. Maybe they should. I’ll Eat You Last goes a long way on a couch.
Marcee Doherty-Elst glides out of a corner of the room and onto a couch onstage. She’s tanned and relaxed while easily commanding all the attention in the biggest little small stage in the Third Ward this weekend.
Doherty-Elst plays a Hollywood Agent. She plays a very specific Hollywood agent: Sue Mengers. Mengers represented Barbra Streisand, Candice Bergen, Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Cher, Joan Collins, Burt Reynolds, and Nick Nolte (among others.) She’s got stories to tell about her life. She was an immigrant who taught herself to speak English with Hollywood movies...movies she wanted to place at the center of her life. Discovering that acting wasn’t right for her, she decided to become an agent.
She’s telling very specific stories. And though she is speaking the stories while smoking on a couch, the stories are all very graceful, motivational and nearly universal. In I’ll Eat You Last, Hollywood agent Sue Mengers is more than a figure out of history...she’s an archetype. She’s that totally confident woman who is mercilessly persistent when she’s not just being...merciless. She's doing a lot of name-dropping. People familiar with the era will be a bit more in synch with the show than others. In the role, Doherty-Elst wields a universality that transcends that trivia, though. Give her 70 minutes and she'll give you someone who doesn't really exist anymore, but probably should.
There’s real heart and personality to the character, which ends up being a really classy blend of Sue Mengers, Marcee Doherty-Elst, playwright John Logan and that one person everyone wishes they had in their corner. There’s a genuine warmth about Doehrty-Elst in the role...a personality just precisely big enough to fill the room without feeling too overpowering. It’s a light show of refreshing depth that Doherty-Elst swims through with great grace while sitting on a couch in the Historic Third Ward.
Untitled Productions and Theater RED's staging of the I'll Eat You Last runs through July 1st at the Journeyman Hotel on 310 East Chicago St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Theater RED online.