If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
"Buyer and Cellar" with Urie at Westport
Fairfield playwright Jonathan Tolins’ hit Off-Broadway comedy, “Buyer & Cellar”, had a middling production last February at TheaterWorks in Hartford. I saw it and enjoyed it to a point, but felt the script deserved better. It did and now it has that at the Westport Country Playhouse, where this very funny comedy has reunited sole actor Michael Urie and director Stephen Brackett from the original, award-winning production. It’s only in Westport for two more weeks. Make tracks.
The clever premise of “Buyer & Cellar” is a fantasy of sorts. Mr. Tolins happened upon Streisand’s 2010 coffee table book, “My Passion for Design”, which detailed in both stories and pictures how she converted her basement into a private shopping mall. Several tony boutiques line the cellar and are filled with the singer’s possessions from her numerous films and stage projects. The play’s narrator is out-of-work, gay actor Alex More (Mr. Urie, sublime) who has been offered the job of “salesperson”. He is tasked with keeping the shops tidy, watching the frozen yogurt machine and, on occasion, play acting with his one and only “customer”, La Streisand.
“Buyer & Cellar” seems initially like a one-joke affair or an extended “Saturday Night Live” skit, but the genius of Tolins’ fantasy is that he digs deeper, exploring more serious topics of celebrity worship and the price of fame. Urie, who wears the role of Alex as comfortably as the blue hoodie selected for him by costumer Jessica Pabst, is clearly Tolins’ ideal muse. His suggestion of Streisand with a slight stoop and maximum use of fingernails is a thing of beauty, both uproarious and poignant. He also plays, without missing a comical beat, Streisand’s snarky personal assistant, his anxious agent, James Brolin and a boyfriend, Barry. It is the wonderfully cynical Barry who manages to bring Alex crashing down to the earth whenever he starts to rhapsodizes about Barbra.
Unlike the TheaterWorks version, this “Buyer & Cellar” is far better paced thanks to Mr. Brackett’s brisk direction and Mr. Urie’s breathless delivery. The scenic design by Andrew Boyce also improves on Hartford, proving less is definitely more with clean lines, minimal furniture and plenty of space. Stowe Nelson’s subtle sound design triggers lovely moments throughout and the projection design by Alex Basco Koch is also done with taste and reserve, much like the “lady-of-the-house” might envision it. How lucky for all involved that PBS will be filming the show while in Westport for eventual broadcast so that Urie’s bravura performance and this top-notch production will live on. Perhaps Streisand may catch it then. I think even she might approve.
“Buyer & Cellar” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through July 3. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.