BWW Reviews: BUYER & CELLAR at Shakespeare Theatre Company Is an Uproarious Must-See
Walk into any bookstore and you will notice that celebrity books are everywhere. There are celebrity recipe collections, autobiographies, children's poetry anthologies. Some are better than others. Some are more ridiculous than others. Case in point? Barbara Streisand's 2010 publication MY PASSION FOR DESIGN, which chronicles the composition of her dream home, complete with an underground mall. Yes, Barbara Streisand has her own series of shops, underneath her house, composed entirely of her own possessions.
This sparked an idea for playwright Jonathan Tolins: what if you were the person who had to work down there? What would it be like? And what would she be like?
Thus was born BUYER & CELLAR. Michael Urie ("Ugly Betty") plays Alex Moore, an L.A. actor and disgraced Disney employee who is hired to work in the underground mall. Alex, previously not a Barbara Streisand fan, slowly becomes enraptured and almost obsessed as he becomes further enveloped into the nonsensical world that is the Streisand and Brolin home. What is most lovable about Alex is that he seems to recognize all throughout his story just how ridiculous it is. He occasionally laughs, and his expressions in reaction to certain events are pitch perfect.
The beginning of this show is wonderful. Urie comes out onto the side of the stage and gives the backstory. He makes no pretenses about his upcoming impersonations. As he explains, he is an actor, and merely distinguishing characters in order to tell the story. It is up to the audience to use imagination and see these real life personas themselves.
That being said, his characters are incredible. Urie not only plays Alex, but also Alex's screenwriter boyfriend Barry, Sharon, the nasal, pessimistic house manager, Arthur Lawrence, and James Brolin.
And then there's Barbara. Urie has made very conscious choices in how he embodies her. He hunches over, scrunches up his face, and out comes that voice and accent. It's great. Urie has accomplished a female character who is both detached and unpredictable. While graceful, this Barbara is multi-faceted, engaging the audience to eagerly see what she will do next.
Urie performs all of this on a relatively simple set. The Sidney Harman Hall stage is predominately black, save for a small, as Urie puts it, "tastefully off white" room in the center, with a table, bench, and chair. The back wall of the room becomes a projection screen, displaying words, symbols, or wallpaper patterns. It's very creative, and does not distract. Urie is simply dressed in red pants, sneakers, a tshirt and sweater. If I were to criticize something, it would be how much he fidgeted with it, but that could have just been a character choice.
To go into any more of this plot would make it easier for you to think that you should skip it. But let me tell you, this script is incredible. I found myself writing down lines from the show just to remember that such serendipitous combinations of words could happen. One liner jokes in this show ranged from instantly funny, to ones where you need a second, and then nearly fall out of your chair.
Do not, however, think that this show is all fluff and fun. At its core, as Alex and Barbara form a psychologically intriguing relationship and let their guards down, you can see what makes each of them empathetic. Each character wants something, and really, it turns out to be the same thing - to not be alone and to be understood. It's sweet, and it stays with you well after the curtain call, even if the basis of the story is completely absurd.
BUYER & CELLAR plays at The Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall through June 29th. If you haven't purchased tickets already, you may want to hurry, and know that this show is entirely worth it.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus