Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Buyer & Cellar escorts audiences to the basement of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu mansion. A young struggling actor accepts a job there maintaining the celebrated actress’s subterranean shopping mall and the fantasy is as telling as it is compellingly comic. Michael Urie, who created the character off-Broadway, reprises the role at the Westport Country Playhouse.
The premise for the play is Barbra’s passion for shopping; Streisand has transformed her basement into an exclusive shopping mall (a true fact) and Alex, a struggling actor, accepts the job of maintaining her mall (not true). Alex is so excited about working for the enchanting mega star that his partner becomes more and more disenchanted with Alex. Ever so subtly, we discover how a person becomes fascinated with a celebrity. Alex becomes more and more taken with the star with each encounter.
When Streisand enters the mall and asks Alex about a particular doll, Alex fabricates a history of the doll that is so heartwarming that Streisand wants the doll and becomes fascinated with Alex. However, she doesn’t want to pay the high price Alex suggests for the doll and he won’t budge. Here we learn of the poor beginnings of this rags-to-riches star. Nonetheless, Alex sticks to the asking price. What is so hilarious is that she owns the whole shopping center and everything in it. There’s no need for bargaining.
What is also hilarious is Michael Urie’s performance of all the characters in the play. He never mimics Barbra, but he has just the right flip of the hair to suggest her character perfectly. He also has gestures for his lover and other characters such as Barbra’s secretary and husband. Urie is quite simply brilliant. He steps in and out of these characters seamlessly. He truly delivers a tour de force performance.
Buyer & Cellar is written by Fairfield playwright Jonathan Tolins, who was inspired by Streisand’s book My Passion for Design. Directed by Stephen Brackett, this one-man show is a one-man hit. Set designer Andrew Boyce goes with the “less is more” approach to the set and it works like a charm by continually putting the emphasis on the actor. Eric Suthern’s lighting design spotlights the actor and Stowe Nelson’s sound design makes sure the audience doesn’t miss a word. Alex Basco Koch contributes to the production with his projection design and Sam Pinkerton’s musical staging adds texture to the show. Jessica Pabst’s realistic costume design completes the character.
One of the best one-man shows to come along in a very long time, this is perfect for a summer night’s entertainment. It’s light and funny and plays through July 3. Box office: 203- 227-4177
Joanne Greco Rochman is managing editor of TheatreCT, an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and a founding member of The Connecticut Critics Circle. She welcomes comments. Contact: Jrochman@earthlink.net