PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers—I Laughed, You Bette

By Harry Haun
25 Apr 2013

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"She made herself up. She made that character up. That's not who she was. She was a little German girl who was a refuge from the Holocaust, and she made it up, and I think it's so American. People become what they want to become. I think the script captures that. It's, truly, an American story—that's what I love about it the most.

"I love that she made herself into what she wanted to be. Part of the problem with our lives is that, when we see something that is projected 40-feet high, we go into that soul. I remember I used to see the movies and I used to go walk out with someone's face superimposed on my face. I would think, 'I am that person,' but I wasn't. But I think that's one of the great things and one of the tragedies about the whole business: People are swept away because it's so big and so beautiful. I think she was swept away because what she had at home was nothing. Her mother was a horror, and her father did kill himself, and all those things happened, so she pulled herself up and ultimately she was a survivor. And that, I think, is what it is: It's human spirit surviving against all odds and living life in an uncompromising way.

"She never compromised ever once, ever. I shed tears on that stage. Sue never cried." Tears, when they come, punctuate the laughs, which occur like clockwork every four or five lines. Midler's delivery, of course, has an italic zing to it, lest one get by. Often she lapses into Margo Channing in her emphasis, but mostly it's conversation-lite.

"I have my moments," Midler dirt-kicked. "They like it when you work blue. My husband says, 'You just swear all the time. You just swear from morning to night. They love it when you swear.' Some people don't, but most people do. And, you know, I never said 'Damn!' until I was 16 years old, and when I did, my father beat me black and blue for saying that. Gosh, I guess I've come a long way!"

It's as startling to see Midler back on Broadway as it is to see Cicely Tyson, who came back the night before in The Trip to Bountiful after an intermission of three decades. Bette Midler beats that by four years—her last, Divine Madness, was '79.

Was she solidified in her ways and scared to come back? "No!" she replied. "I really liked the script. I felt the script was solid and that I could do something with it."