Tuesday, 2 April 2013

BUYER AND CELLAR by Jonathan Tolins

      In this very amusing, but a bit overlong solo play by Jonathan Tolins, a young gay actor in Los Angeles who, like many actors in LaLaLand, is trying to survive economically, gets a job as the curator of the shopping mall Barbra Streisand has created in the basement of her Malibu estate. Yes, the great diva really does have a simulacrum of an old-fashioned American main street in her basement. Otherwise the play, as we (and Streisand's lawyers) are assured at the outset, is fiction. Alex is hired to keep the shops in Streisand's main street clean and be salesperson if the mall's one customer ever arrives. Well, she does, and we revel in Alex's rather bizarre confrontations with the diva as Alex plays out his role as shopkeeper and she pretends not to own the things she is trying to buy. Both Alex and Barbra drive hard bargains, but we know who has to win. Meanwhile, Alex's boyfriend Barry becomes jealous of his infatuation with his legendary employer. Of course, given the Great Lady's reputation for firing people, we know Alex's days are numbered: the only question is when and how.
     Tolins has written a very funny 105 minute monologue. As I said, it could be shorter. People around me were looking at their watches after the first hour. No one can fault Michael Urie, who is delightful. Going at beakneck speed, he plays Alex, boyfriend Barry, Barbra, Mr. Streisand (James Brolin) among other characters. Most of the play is dialogue between Alex and another character, and Urie almost makes one believe there are two people on stage. BUYER AND CELLAR is a great display of Urie's range as a comic actor. One can only hope that a lot of playwrights, directors and producers see this and create better projects for him than that lame short-lived sitcom he appeared in last fall. Urie has been type cast on television as a flamboyant, feckless gay man. He plays that well, but gay people, like their straight counterparts, come in all sizes and shapes of personality. His acting of the scenes between him and boyfriend Barry give us two very different gay men. At any rate, it's a pleasure to watch Urie in such a demanding vehicle. And one that's great fun.
BUYER AND CELLAR by Jonathan Tolins. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. April 1, 2013.

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