Playwright Jonathan Tolins wants everyone to know that Buyer & Cellar is pure fiction. He has only imagined what life would be like working in Barbra Streisand’s private mall located entirely in her basement. That part is real, yes, the basement mall inside her Malibu home as documented in Streisand’s 2010 book My Passion for Design, but everything else is total fiction – oddly enough.
Presented by Alberta Theatre Projects, Buyer & Cellar tells the fictitious story of Alex More (Steven Gallagher), a struggling actor whose experience in retail lands him a job working as the only employee inside Streisand’s private mall. Being the only employee in the mall is dull, if not unfulfilling, for an actor in search of greener pastures than Disney’s Toontown. But once Streisand herself, in her all immaculate head-to-toe detail, visits him downstairs in the mall, Alex becomes swept up by her fame and loneliness, eventually developing a friendship with the American diva.
But there’s more to Streisand than meets the eye, cautions Alex’s boyfriend Barry. Her sob stories are all an act, and Alex is playing right into it. So, just how much of the friendship is real?
Buyer & Cellar’s humour is targeted towards two very specific crowds. Streisand fans will appreciate Tolins’ nods and winks to the singer’s rich career, and the jokes around it. Audiences familiar with older showbiz icons, like Bea Arthur for example, will get a kick out of the playwright’s jabs at the industry. For most everyone else, however, Buyer & Cellar is just too narrow to be appealing.
And none of it amounts to much.
There is one great punchline that comes near the end, but that’s perhaps the only worthwhile part of the play. The play is flat, through and through. Tolins goes for zingers, of which there are plenty, than actual substance. Yes, the show is lighthearted and fun, but its central promise, held together by a string of jokes, is tired half way through. Tolins tries to pad the show with commentary about the downsides of fame, but none of it really matters. It’s all about the zingers for Tolins, who doesn’t know how to end this overextended one-line joke.
Gallagher’s comedic chops bring life to the characters of Tolins’ play. The actor’s take on Streisand is humorous with its splash of Norma Desmond mannerisms. Tracey Flye’s direction has the show running light on its feet. Set designer David Fraser’s take on Streisand’s mall is clean and crisp, unlike some of Corwin Ferguson fuzzy projection work. Even still, Fraser’s set, with its large white drawers, is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Tolins’ Buyer & Cellar is a 90 minute Streisand fantasy inspired by a vanity project, and it shows. Die-hard Streisand fans may find some entertainment value from ATP’s final show of the 2015-16 season, but for everyone else, consider this parade rained out.
Alberta Theatre Project’s Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins runs April 5 – 23 at the Martha Cohen Theatre.
For more information about the show, including how to buy tickets, visit: http://atplive.com/whats-on/buyer-cellar/