Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/5/2016 (353 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
IN its premise, the Jonathan Tolins-scripted comedy Buyer & Cellar reads as a satiric look at celebrity and the fantastic indulgences afforded the rich and famous.
But it registers more accurately as one man’s elaborate fantasy of befriending a big movie star.
In the play’s introduction, Tolins takes pains to establish this is a fiction through his stage proxy, a gay L.A. actor named Alex More. The play was inspired by the playwright’s encounter with Barbra Streisand at the opening of one of Tolin’s plays. Charmingly, Streisand offered him a bite of her Kit Kat candy bar and to his eternal regret, he demurred.
Thus began an obsession, one that Streisand herself fired up in Tolins upon the release of her book My Passion for Design, published in 2010. It’s essentially a catalogue of Streisand’s acquisitions, most of which the star of Nuts squirrelled away in her massive Malibu estate. The book was written by and mostly photographed by Streisand herself. ("How did she get her?" wonders the starstruck Alex.) In the absence of an autobiography, it may be the closest Streisand gets to revealing the corners of her mind, misty water-coloured memories and all.
One detail of the book concerns the mall of faux shops Streisand created in the basement of a barn-like structure away from her main house. Tolins takes that detail and runs with it, having out-of-work actor Alex seek employment there on the rebound from a disastrous gig at Disneyland (another laboriously designed false reality designed by another visionary narcissist).
Alex gets the job of essentially pretending to be a retailer for the exclusive pleasure of Miss Streisand herself. In the initial encounter, she comes down under an assumed name and the two haggle over an exquisite French doll that blows bubbles. In subsequent encounters, the facade drops and the employer takes Alex into her confidence. The blossoming relationship threatens Alex’s screenwriter boyfriend Barry, who rather nicely summarizes Streisand’s own stubborn neuroses through a stinging analysis of her most self-indulgent self-directed film, The Mirror Has Two Faces.
Forced to choose between his boyfriend and an icon, what’s a man to do?
Ryan James Miller, best known locally for his sketch work with the comedy troupe Hot Thespian Action, proves he has what it takes to go the distance in a one-man play with a running time of an hour and 45 minutes (without intermission) on a spare, minimalist set. He plays six characters in all, including James Brolin, Alex’s lustful Disneyland boss, Streisand’s steely no-nonsense facilitator, and of course Barbra. He doesn’t do impersonation, but under the meticulous direction of Kayla Gordon, Miller does get to the dramatic kernel of each character, including Streisand herself, a maddening, walking contradiction of talent and insecurity.
If there is a problem with the play, it may be that Streisand’s presence unbalances it with the sheer weight of her star power. At one point, Barbra tells a story of suffering cruelties as a child that she apparently never got over. Maybe the gay character could have amplified that theme with his own experiences?
Buyer & Cellar is an evening of wholly entertaining theatre, but like its conflicted hero, it is perhaps too much under Streisand’s spell.