Jonathan Tolins’ captivating one-man play Buyer & Cellar is partly factual (or part truth, or partly true), in that there is indeed a mall of shops in the basement of one of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu homes to house her personal possessions in a tasteful environment. (Streisand wrote a book in 2010, My Passion for Design, which includes a section about the shopping shrine.) Factored into this truth is Tolins’ fantastic fabrication: that an out-of-work L.A. actor has been hired to perform there, as the sole clerk for one megastar customer. It makes for a totally entertaining, 100 percent uproariously funny, yet touching story as directed by Dan O’Neil at 1812 Productions.
Alex More, recently terminated from his job as a heavily costumed character in Disneyland-like park, enters into a world he could only dream of, wondering what he would do or say should Streisand decide to descend and shop – or whatever it is she does when she visits. The awaited moment arrives, and Alex, in a pivotal split second of improvisation, decides to punt a non-negotiable price to Streisand for her own “merchandise,” which may be more than she bargained for from her private store keeper… but it works! A playful relationship builds between the two, culminating to the point where Alex believes they may even be friends. At home, Alex’s boyfriend Barry, a struggling screenwriter, grumpily reminds him that he is still just a downstairs employee, and will never be accepted upstairs by the invincible icon. A series of events puts Alex’s relationships with both Barry and Barbra, as well as his hopes, feelings and aspirations to the test. Aspects of celebrity worship, the state of superstardom and out-of-this-world wealth are elucidated and explored with superb humor.
Charismatic Dito van Reigersberg coyly conveys all of the characters by way of mannerisms, body language, voice, expression and reaction. It’s marvelous to see him deftly flipping back and forth through an entire ensemble, including his agent, his boyfriend, and his supervisor, plus Streisand, James Brolin, Bea Arthur, and even the particular whir of her custom frozen yogurt machine. Fabulous!
Tolins fills Buyer & Cellar with quips, one-liners and plenty of snark. But van Reigersberg also evokes the heart underlying the play’s characters and situations, so that it is keenly felt, albeit between bouts of laughter. He tells the story with just a few props (provided by Avista Custom Theatrical Services): a chair and a cart in a sleek chandeliered room with walls that are not quite off-white, but putty-colored (as Alex puts it). The color scheme blends nicely with the bold costuming by Jillian Keys, Maria Shaplin’s cleverly subtle effective lighting scheme, and spot-on sound by Chris Sannino.
Here you will find the promise of drama, entertainment, suspense, fulfilled, along with some things to ponder. Buyer & Cellar is terrific tale well told, with perhaps just a tiny of tease of a tear or two, at least from laughter.
Running Time: 80 minutes, without intermission.
Buyer & Cellar plays through October 29, 2017 at 1812 Productions, performing at Plays & Players Theatre – 1714 Delancey Place, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or purchase them online.