BUYER & CELLAR ROASTS CELEBRITY ADORATION IN ICONIC BABS-STYLE
In the tradition of Truman Capote’s fictionalized non-fiction of In Cold Blood, playwright Jonathan Tolins used Barbra Streisand’s overtly-obsessive 2010 coffee-table tome My Passion For Design as a springboard to both roast our modern society’s obsession with celebrity worship and to comment on the movie star’s strange design and collecting obsessions. The resulting one-person performance titled Buyer & Cellar at LA’s Mark Taper Forum is a laugh-riot of a good time.
Given the celebrity icon’s litigious history, the play opens with a seven-minute disclaimer on the fictionalized nature of the unfolding work. What is undisputed truth is this: according to Streisand’s book, the star/author/principal photographer (cum all-in-one-enterprise) was inspired by the DuPont family’s Winterthur Museum. Winterthur is the American decorative arts museum in Delaware initially created by Henry Francis DuPont to house his massive American and European fine and decorative arts collection. In homage and emulation, Streisand has built an avenue of quaint storefronts in the basement of her Malibu estate, creating a mini-Winterthur in her cellar. This self-indulgent underground emporium — complete with doll shop, vintage clothing boutique, soda fountain, frozen yogurt shop, etc. — was built to house the star’s vast collection of material stuff. “Remember, this is the part that’s real,” Urie reminds the audience as he slips into character, Alex More, a struggling and recently-fired gay Los Angeles actor desperately seeking meaningful employment. “Crazy, right?” he asks.
Right! And crazier than this fact is the even-crazier notion that Streisand continues to fabricate a self-indulgent shopping experience for herself by employing our narrator Alex to man the shops, in a “Charmin-Mr-Whipple-way,” as she shops — and bargains for — the very same objects she already owns! In one exchange, Streisand refuses to pay retail for a unique French automaton toy. Alex, in a surge of mastery and control over his star-employer, holds firm to his made-up asking price for the toy. Within days, Streisand returns to the basement doll shop with the hilarious statement “I’ve found a coupon!”
Alex’s emotions span the wide horizon of feelings from an initial awe and fascination with the star herself, to one of playful mischief and coy flirtation, ultimately transitioning to wide-eyed adoration and culminating into “dare-we-call-it-friendship” feelings. Alas, all is illusion. Nonetheless, our narrator has been transformed by the Streisand experience, sending back a rug from Pottery Barn that is 2 ½ inches shorter than represented.
The deliciously wicked material is well suited for Michael Urie, who delivers an astonishing non-stop and uninterrupted 100 minute performance. Playing no less than five characters —Alex; Sharon, Streisand’s house-commander-in-charge; Barry, Alex’s screenwriter boyfriend; James Brolin, Streisand’s current hubby; as well as the icon herself – Urie’s outstanding skill in storytelling is augmented by his limber physicality. He commands the entire spare stage and delivers the material in a convincing, just-between-us kind of way. Stellar direction by Stephen Brackett. Thoroughly delicious! Don’t miss it.
Buyer & Cellar plays Tuesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6 p.m. through August 17, 2014 at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes with no intermission. Ticket Price: $25-$85 (Ticket prices subject to change.) Contact: (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org
Armin’s Grade: A
by Armin Callo, Theatre Critic