Lyric’s “Buyer & Cellar” Is Hilarious (5 Stars)
Buyer & Cellar, Written by Jonathan Tolins. Directed by Courtney O’Connor. Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA, through January 3.
“This is a work of fiction”, warns Alex More (Phil Tayler), an out-of-work actor who fears that Barbra Streisand, his imaginary co-star in “Buyer and Cellar”, will sue if this is not made clear. Despite the imaginary premise, the piece is inspired by a real book Alex shows us, “My Passion for Design”, authored by none other than Barbra Streisand. Alex reads us a passage or two, in which Barbra describes her vision for her house based on elements of Winterthur – and voila, the mall in her basement is born. From this point, so is the play.
Alex has been fired from his Mayor of Toontown job at Disney Land, and after a role in a disastrous coming-out play called “Accepting Stephen”, is down on his luck. A former one-night stand on the Matterhorn – the ride, not the mountain – has an audition opportunity for Alex at a mansion in Malibu. With nothing else to do, Alex accepts. After entering the gates of a gorgeous estate and interviewing with a humorless assistant, Alex learns that the job consists of playing the sole shop employee at the mall in Barbra’s basement.
The mall is filled with wondrous things – a frozen yogurt machine, a doll shoppe, some of Barbra’s costumes – but after a few hours, it’s pretty dull. Alex is basically lying in wait until he meets his employer, the indomitable Barbra, much to his boyfriend Barry’s delight and ultimate chagrin. “Call me – Sadie”, sighs Streisand coyly, after their first meeting, where she and Alex haggle over the price of a doll that ostensibly belongs to her in the first place. Over the next ninety minutes, we watch the rise and fall of their relationship, as Alex moves from fan to acting coach – she asks him to assist her with preparations to play “Mama Rose” in “Gypsy – to what he feels might be friendship. Ultimately, they both disappoint one another.
This is probably one of the more clever pieces of theater I’ve seen in a while, augmented splendidly by the versatile and attractive Phil Tayler. Tayler pulls the audience in right away, playing Alex with a self-deprecating, yet winning personality. His adeptness with the other characters is such that you forget you’re seeing a one-man show. The assistant’s manner is contained and snide. Barry, Alex’s boyfriend, is nerdy, more well-versed in gay icons than Alex. James Brolin makes a macho appearance, to check out his wife’s new employee. Tayler’s Barbra is terrific – feminine, vulnerable, lonely, yet in control. It’s a tour de force performance that Tayler manages to make look easy, which is why at the end of the show that I attended we all leapt to our feet and cheered. I’ll bet you’ll do the same when you go. For more information, go to: http://www.lyricstage.com/