Wednesday, March 18, 2015

BUYER AND CELLAR • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

Jonathan Tolins' tasty one-man play, "Buyer and Cellar", uses Barbra Streisand's 2010 vanity project coffee-table book, “My Passion for Design”, as a jumping off point for the story of Alex, a gay, out of work actor in Los Angeles, and his stint as the sole employee in the underground mall at Ms. Streisand's Malibu estate. Alex, pitch-perfectly played by Jeremy Webb, makes it clear from the beginning that this tale is fictional, though the book itself, along with the basement thoroughfare of shops, is real, which makes this 90-minute gallivant even more delicious. Extra points if you have more than a passing knowledge of Barbra Streisand -- singer, actor, director, producer, diva, and gay icon.

After being unceremoniously booted from his job at Disneyland's "Toontown", Alex lands a job manning Streisand's basement street of shops, where she keeps a lifetime of accumulated knick-knacks.
Jeremy Webb (Alex).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Though he's relegated to the cellar with only old costumes, dolls, immaculately placed bric-a-brac, and a frozen yogurt machine for company, Alex is euphoric about the gig and happy for the steady paycheck. Then, like a bolt from the blue, the day arrives when he's visited by the mall's only patron, Babs herself, who's come down to admire her belongings, engage in light conversation, and haggle for goods she already owns. As Streisand's subterranean visits become more frequent and Alex's relationship with her evolves, Alex's boyfriend becomes more and more annoyed, and perhaps a little jealous, and warns him about flying too close to the sun. Alex is bound to get burned.

Jeremy Webb (Alex).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
While Tolins' play jabs and pokes fun at the more publicly assumed notions about Streisand's persona, it affectionately yields more weight that its clever but featherweight premise seems to offer on the surface. With buoyant direction by Wendy Dann, Webb, with nothing more onstage than a chair and a desk, sucks you in from the start with an affable ease, and his interactions with Streisand are characterized convincingly with a refreshing lack of overdone caricature. He also plays Alex's snarky screenwriter boyfriend, Barry, a chilly fellow employee at the estate, Sharon, with even a little James Brolin thrown in -- all distinctive and well-played. Steve TenEyck's lighting design changes with the text and tone, sometimes with just the snap of a finger, and Rusty Wandall complements the action with subtle, perfectly placed sound design and original music.

Jeremy Webb (Alex).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
No doubt Ms. Streisand has probably never seen this show in person. Oh well. Her loss. This play is great fun. "Buyer and Cellar" closes out the Rep's Studio season, and has already been extended until April 5th. Check it out!


Written by Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Wendy Dann
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through April 5 | tickets: $50 - $65
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Jeremy Webb* (Alex).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic and lighting design by Steve TenEyck; costume design by Marci Franklin; sound design/original music by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

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