Buyer and Cellar
by Stu Brown
What would it be like to work in the underground shopping mall below Barbra Streisand's Malibu estate? (Yes, she really does have one.) That's the premise for the witty, playful and entertaining one-man show, Buyer and Cellar, at Theaterworks in Hartford through February 14th.
The play, written by Jonathan Tolins, takes this statement of fact and imagines a scenario where an out of work actor who, by pure luck, lands a job as the sole employee in the cellar retail shops. Tom Lenk plays Alex More, the down and out thespian who gets the break of his life. Lenk also inhabits a number of other characters including his boyfriend Barry, Ms. Streisand, and James Brolin.
Down in the mall there is a doll shop, a gift ship and dress store. There is even a soft serve yogurt bar. Alex dusts and arranges and busies himself hoping that you-know-who may enter his new domain. She soon does and their interactions are spirited, flirtatious, mischievous, and sassy. Tolins intersperses these scenes with biting commentary and sarcastic quips by Alex’s boyfriend Barry as a way to keep Alex’s sensibilities grounded in reality.
The playwright does an excellent job creating a believable, entrancing story out of pure fantasy. It is an impressive and hilarious piece of stagecraft. Yet Tolins’ work is also moving and poignant, a meditation on relationships, the drawbacks of stardom and the cloistered environment it can produce.
Tom Lenk comes across as an impish pixie, sashaying around the small stage. The actor brings a distinctive twist to each of the characters he portrays, whether it is the slight hunch of the estate manager or the gentle stroking of Streisand’s hair. He is convincing in his depictions and a good enough raconteur to keep our interest focused throughout the 108 minute intermission-less production.
Director Rob Ruggiero gives the show a frisky and devilish lacquer. He smartly zeroes in on the importance of Tom Lenk’s storytelling abilities, which keeps the audience enthralled and bewitched. Ruggiero’s incorporation of Rob Benton’s simple video projections within Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s minimal scenic design adds an understated charm to the show.
Buyer and Cellar, a comic delight, at Theaterworks until February 14th.