Both The Testament of Mary and I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers star charismatic actors playing larger-than-life characters. Both are one-act, one-woman shows that clock in at 90 minutes or so. (Don’t come late.) Both take place on sets to die for, with the actresses wearing simple, striking costumes by Ann Roth. Here’s how to tell them apart.
Mary is the one with the towering Irish thespian Fiona Shaw, in a faith-challenging monologue delivered by the mother of Jesus herself. The words are by the acclaimed Irish novelist Colm Téibín, and the production, a showpiece of odd props (cue the live vulture), sculptural lighting, violent physicality, and haunting sound design, is directed by Shaw’s creative partner of the past quarter century, Deborah Warner. In a vivid interactive experience, the audience is invited on stage before the narrative begins to explore the artifacts, turning ticket holders into tourist-pilgrims in a church; in fact it’s the hell-on-earth home of an angry, anguished woman who recounts her son’s death. Shaw is physically riveting — but the theatrical stomping around becomes its own show, an unintended vanity.
I’ll Eat You Last is the one where Bette Midler never gets off her sumptuous peach Ultrasuede couch. As the late, legendary Hollywood talent agent Sue Mengers, she doesn’t need to; the lady owns the place with one flip of her frosted coif before she even speaks. Midler dishes dirt circa 1981 in a brilliant script by John Logan (Red), with dynamic direction from Joe Mantello that makes lounging and smoking look deliciously athletic. Speaking in the exaggerated B-movie tones that Mengers explained she learned in order to lose her accent as an 8-year-old émigré from Germany, Midler manages a fabulous feat: She marshals all her own famously divine Bette-ness to bring to life a kindred spirit. There’s real heaven in this profanity. (Both: Telecharge.com) The Testament of Mary: B+ I’ll Eat You Last: A