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REVIEW: Buyer & Cellar (New Century Theatre)

Photo by George Byron Griffiths.

Buyer & Cellar, a play by Jonathan Tolins that Variety called “Absolutely delicious!”, concerns an out-of-work gay actor getting a “dream job” working as a store clerk in a shopping mall – a mall that just happens to be located in the basement of Barbara Streisand’s Malibu home. This seemingly absurd premise is stems from the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction fact that Barbara Streisand actually does have a small mall of shops in her basement. It’s a mall just like any mall “except for the total lack of customers and employees.” To avoid possible litigation, the play makes very clear at the beginning that the play’s story is pure fiction. This satirical story, directed by Wendy Knox, provides a whimsical evening of storytelling.

This one-man show features Sasha Andreev as Alex Moore, plus a few others – for example, Alex’s boyfriend Barry, Barbara Streisand, and her hubby James Brolin. Alex is an unemployed actor who just lost his job as Toon Town Mayor at Disney Land in Anaheim, California. Through a friend, he learns that his retail experience qualifies him to work in Streisand’s mall, where he is a workforce of one. He spends his days dusting and rearranging the merchandise trying to avoid being overwhelmed by boredom. Finally, one day, the mall’s only customer – Barbara Streisand – walks in and wants to buy a doll.

Andreev plays both Alex and Streisand when acting out their moments together. The lines between evocation, impersonation, and caricature are often too thin, but Andreev effectively portrays Streisand without impersonating her. Instead, he uses inflection, subtle turns of phrase, and head movements to convey her persona. His portrayal of James Brolin is a more obvious impersonation, including imitating Brolin’s deep voice. Alex tells his boyfriend Barry about every encounter he has with Streisand. He is surprised by Barry’s hostility when he relates how Streisand talks about her deprived childhood. An annoyed Barry bellows “this incredibly privileged, powerful woman still acts like a Dickensian victim.” As Alex’s relationship with Streisand progresses to the point where he is promoted from store clerk to acting coach, however, Barry’s jealousy leads to a breakup between the two men. When the inevitable end comes to Alex’s mall employment, it also brings the play to a close.

There is minimal physical action on stage. The set design is limited to three pieces of furniture: a chair, a sofa and a table. Andreev’s seamless shifting between characters and settings as he tells his improbable story creates a sense of movement throughout the show. The most serious drawback is that the show runs a little long with a running time of one hour and forty-five minutes without an intermission.

With Andreev’s charisma and Knox’s excellent pacing, Buyer & Cellar makes for a delightful, albeit lightweight, theatre experience.

Buyer & Cellar plays at the New Century Theatre through April 24.

Bev Wolfe