“Buyer and Cellar” (Westport Country Playhouse)
By Susan Granger
Laughter rocks the theater as Michael Urie brings Jonathan Tolins’ hit Off-Broadway comedy to the Westport Country Playhouse.
Urie opens the subtly seductive satire with several disclaimers, making it clear that it’s is a work of fiction, since none of this “could possibly have happened with a person as famous, talented and litigious as Barbra Streisand.”
On a stage sparsely furnished with a round cafe table, chair and bench, Urie relates how Alex More, a struggling gay actor in Los Angeles, gets hired to be the sole, always subservient clerk in the private mini-mall that Barbra Streisand has created for herself in the basement of a barn adjacent to her Malibu mansion.
Since Barbra’s a compulsive shopper, her quaint, European-styled arcade includes an antique shop and clothing boutique, stocked with her abundant collection of vintage dresses, object d’art, and dolls.
Its creation is detailed in Streisand’s 2010 coffee-table photo book “My Passion for Design.” As Alex notes from the front cover flap, this is the “refuge she’s longed for since the days when she shared a small Brooklyn apartment with her mother, brother and grandparents…”
Often recognized as Marc St. James from TV’s “Ugly Betty,” lanky Michael Urie energetically captures the iconic Streisand persona with a few masterfully nuanced mannerisms, including flipping her hair and shrugging one shoulder asking, “Am I right or am I right?”
Director Stephen Brackett reins in campy caricature, cleverly balancing superstar Barbra’s alleged perfectionism with sensitivity, affection, even empathy, adding emotional heft to a subplot involving Alex’s struggling screenwriter boyfriend Barry.
At the after-party, playwright Jonathan Tolins (“Secrets of the Trade,” “Twilight of the Golds”) revealed that the reason Westport was able to book this original production was because the show will be filmed there for broadcast on Theater Close-Up on Channel 13/WNET, joining a new wave of televised theatrical presentations that includes the current Broadway revival of “She Loves Me.”
The obvious question everyone asks is, “Has Barbra seen this?” Apparently not. If she were in the audience, her reactions to the tart absurdity would divert attention from the stage. So, when it’s on TV, Ms. Streisand can watch in privacy.
Irresistibly amusing, “Buyer and Cellar” runs at the Westport Country Playhouse until July 3. For more information, visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box-office at (203) 227-4177.