BWW Reviews: Deliriously Funny BUYER & CELLAR Captivates Mark Taper Audiences
To set the record straight, actor Michael Urie introduces Buyer & Cellar by stating quite emphatically that what we are about to see is a fiction. He then holds up a copy of Barbra Streisand's book My Passion for Design published in 2010. In it Streisand describes her dream house. This book fed playwright Jonathan Tolin's imagination to create a fictitious play about a mall in the cellar of the icon's home. Starring Urie as an out-of-work LA actor who takes a job running the stores in the mall and focusing on his dream relationship with his new boss, Buyer & Cellar is replete with deliriously campy humor and takes a moment or two to show - if indeed it were possible - the very personal side of the iconic superstar. Streisand fans, take note: the award-winning off-Broadway one-man show plays at the Mark Taper Forum through August 17 only!
Streisand like any great iconic celebrity is next to impossible to get to know. Only Jim Brolin knows for sure what she is really like...and he'll never tell. C'mon, get a life, she has a good side and a bad side, like anyone else. Just how bad or good she can get rests upon what others say about her. There are lots of envious people in this town. Are they lying or telling the truth? Who knows? And of course, the media constantly blow things way out of proportion. Therefore, we should not bother to dispute diehard fan Alex More's( Urie) story about Barbra since it's a concoction of all the positive and negative things that have been said about her and her opinions, likes and dislikes, attitudes and tastes, over the years. None of it is fact; we are allowed to purely enjoy the anecdotes we hear and take them with a grain of salt....and laugh aplenty!
Streisand has often been called a perfectionist. Her response to that? "Men are perfectionists, but when women try, they are called bitches." Tolin's portrait of the lady is overall one of adulation. More notes that her skin is luminous and that her many possessions show her undeniably fine taste. She likes what she likes and only surrounds herself with the very best. As to people, it's most likely the same. If you love her and tell her so, then she will keep you around and 'use' you to make her feel better. When that grows tiresome, she'll let you go. At one point, Streisand in response to the question "What's it like to be on top?" answers "Fun. But so much is expected of you..." She like anyone needs to be fed to feel secure, like when More tells her what a great Mama Rose she would make in Gypsy, it's just what she needs to hear. Arthur Laurents didn't feel overwhelmed with the prospect of her in the role, and neither is Stephen Sondheim. When fictional More takes her side, she even lets him coach her. "I'll get someone else to direct it...technically" she quips. The most touching, endearing thing that she says to her new friend is "I want you to care as much as I care." Right or wrong, the lady has always been passionate about her work...that matters most, and is perhaps the only thing we will ever get to truly know about Barbra Streisand.
Tolin is wise to keep both positive and negative sides of the argument alive and active in the play: those who adore her like More and those that do not like More's boyfriend Barry, who accuses her of being a grand manipulator as in her direction of The Prince of Tides. When Alex confides that she has been telling him about her impoverished, unloved youth in Brooklyn and that in her Utopia she would want to be 'pretty', Barry, like many critics can only say " Why should she complain? She has been on every magazine cover in the world and been photographed by every photographer including Cecil Beaton." But...even when people have had it all, there is still an emptiness, a void to be filled. Streisand is not unlike any other celebrity looking for acceptance, security and ... love.
Under Stephen Brackett's crisply paced direction, Urie delivers a boffo performance. In about 100 minutes his emotional instrument runs the gammit from A to Z. Happy, inquisitive, ecstatic in a 360 turn to confused, bored and deeply disappointed, he never loses the connection. Voicing every role, he makes us feel Barbra's presence or that of her assistant Sharon, or Brolin and in his own world Barry and those other characters that make the plot tick.
One of the funniest stories in the script involves a doll named Fifi that Streisand as a customer in her own store pretends to want but, like any stereotypical Jewish American princess, at a lower price than the one suggested by salesman Alex. Each is putting the other to an extreme test of endurance, and when Streisand returns the next day with a coupon she has found on the internet, Tolin and Urie have the audience in stitches. What a hoot! On a somewhat serious - but still light - side, Alex walks away from his brief relationship having learned a valuable thing or two about taste, self-indulgence and personal happiness from his favorite diva.
Go see Buyer & Cellar for the sheer enjoyment that it brings. The nonstop funny patter and Urie's ingenious performance will have you entranced, just as the mystique of Barbra Streisand has been doing these past 50+ years. Just don't take any of it too seriously!