Stuart Brown is the host of the Broadway music radio program "On Broadway" (WRTCFM.COM), which airs live every Sunday night from 5:30-6:30PM EST. He reviews NYC theater as a member of the Outer Critics Circle and reviews CT stage productions as a member of the CT Critics Circle. He is also a member of the Dramtist Guild.
Friday, August 9, 2013
Review of Off-Broadway's "Buyer And Cellar"
Arlene Jaffe, Staff Writer
From Judy Garland, Peter Allen and Charlie Chaplin to Eva Peron, Coco
Chanel and Marilyn Monroe…larger-than-life celebrities have been the subject of
dramas and musicals produced both on and off Broadway.
Judging by the decibel
level and anticipatory excitement pulsing through The Barrow Street Theater,
much of the audience was expecting the same iconic adulation from Buyer And Cellar. Barbra Streisand,
after all, was the subject here. Wasn’t she?
For a play about an icon so obsessed
with detail, the set by Andrew Boyce was surprisingly Spartan, albeit in purplelavendargreyishpetalpink
custom paint contrasted by hand-hewn molding and a classic Louis XVI
dining chair brought up-to-date with a paperwhite eggshell finish.
In fact, when the marvelously-gifted Michael
Urie entered in front of the stage as Michael Urie, he informed the audience
that there would be no over-the-top impressions or movie clips or costume
changes because Buyer And Cellar was a total work of
Urie explained that
the writer, Jonathan Tolin, wanted
the play to be less about Barbra and more about the relationship that forms
between two people in vastly different stations in life. (Perhaps a nod to
people who need people.) Mr. Tolin,
playwright, television producer and writer for the Academy Awards, Tony Awards and
Bette Midler actually did experience a close encounter of the Barbra
kind, when she offered him a piece of her Kit Kat bar.
Then, Urie displayed a coffee-table
book entitled: My
Passion for Design published by Penguin
in 20120, which was written and photographed by Barbra Streisand about her
“house” in Malibu.
When the applause subsided, Urie
explained that one paragraph in the book was Tolin’s inspiration for writing Buyer And Cellar.
Streisand had a street of shops built in her basement to showcase
her various collections and memorabilia. It was her own personal shopping mall:
A Sweet Shop with whirring frozen yogurt and popcorn machines. A Gift Shoppe with
wrapping station. Along with an Antique Shop, Antique Clothes Shop (for all her
costumes) and Bee's Doll Shop.
Tolin thought it would be funny if someone had to work down there and
“greet the customer" whenever she came down.
Now, Urie becomes the out-of-work
actor, Alex More, stepping onstage into a fictional world dominated by the
“cellar” where he’s been hired to do a little dusting while impatiently waiting
for the “buyer”. Urie would, eventually, play four other distinctive roles in
this rollicking, riotous and thought-provoking one-man show. Barry, his
boyfriend, who is a jaded and long-suffering screenwriter in the biz.
Sharon, the weary and wise major domo of the Streisand compound. James Brolin,
the husband. And Barbra herself.
The moment when Alex-as-shopkeeper finally
meets Barbra-the-customer was the first inkling that Buyer and Cellar would be the rara avis that flies into the life of
the most fortunate theater-goer. The back and forth that develops between them is
the stuff of writing and acting genius. Not only the haggle between a have and
have not…but also the demarcation between fame and obscurity, power and
weakness, confidence and insecurity, the perfectionist and the flawed. (So not
to be a spoiler, their first confrontation happened over a doll which Barbra
“hondles” with Alex to buy for a better price…even though she already owns
Over the next ninety-or-so minutes,
the dramatic arc continued strong and steady. The audience grew more rapt and
responsive with every Brooklyn story, every Hollywood nugget, every nail and
nose reference, every nod to Yentl.
The more interaction between Alex and
Barbra, the more he believed they were becoming friends. The more the audience
learned about Barbra, the more chinks in her Donna Karan armor would be
revealed: worries about her weight, her looks, her age, her son, her waning
interest in shopping, even her legacy. Human
When Alex suggested that Streisand direct
or maybe even star in a movie remake of Gypsy,
she becomes that funny girl the audience had been hoping for …only to have
Barry burst their bubble with what could be the most scathing line of the
entire show. “Who’s she gonna play. Granmama Rose?
Artfully, the most poignant moment
came toward the end of Buyer And Cellar,
when James Brolin enters the scene like Dr. Steven Kiley straight out of
Marcus Welby, M.D.Urie not
only captured his mannerisms, body language and tone of
voice, he physically morphed from his lithe, lanky self into a towering, swaggering
movie star of a man. Hello, gorgeous.
Brolin tells Alex that he’s come
down to the Sweet Shop for some coffee yogurt with extra sprinkles. The
audience knows that the yogurt wasn’t for Brolin, even though he tries to
convince Alex it is. This is a brilliant interpretation of the unsung husband
who would do anything to keep his wife happy. Considering the wife, Brolin must
be Saint James.
No wonder the accolades for Buyer And Cellar keep pouring in: for
the actor, the playwright, the director and the entire production team.
Ultimately, this is a tough love letter to a global supernova who faces the realization
that perfection might not be attainable.
Unless, of course, Streisand sneaks
into the theater and sees this play.