|Scott Drummond in Buyer and Cellar (Chris Bennion)|
Buyer and Cellar
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through November 22, 2015
Are you a Barbra Streisand aficionado? Or do you yawn when you hear her name? Or are you not quite sure what all the fuss is about? The main character, Alex, in the wonderfully funny and sweet solo show at Seattle Repertory, Buyer and Cellar, is kind of the latter. Yes, he’s Gay, but nope he really doesn’t know all that much about Babs.
Until however, he gets a call, in between looking for acting gigs, to work for a rich person living in Malibu… and takes on one of the strangest hourly jobs a person might have: working in Barbra Streisand’s basement!
This is the set up for this charming show full of belly laughs and gently poking into financial inequity and our obsession with celebrity. At the start of the show, Scott Drummond, the New York-based actor getting a work out in this complex piece by Jonathan Tolins, tells us that we need to remember that none of this actually happened. It’s all the imagination of the playwright.
You know what? By the end of the show, you may walk out having to remind yourself! It’s that engrossing and believable!
What is true is that Ms. Streisand wrote a coffee table book about her obsession with interior design. It’s called “My Passion for Design,” and is full of her own pictures of her estate in Malibu where she created several buildings, like a mill, a barn, a guest house and a main house on extensive grounds with ponds and gardens. She has so many collectibles that she wanted to display properly that she created a “mall” in the basement full of individual shops, like a doll shop and a clothing store with some of her old costumes in it.
Drummond explains that Tolins wondered about what it would be like to work down there in the not-real shops while waiting for the Diva to visit her stuff. He informs us that Tolins has never met her and all of the portrayal of her is fictional, but based on her book.
Then, he slips into the character of Alex and we are off and running, as he details how he comes to be hired into the job, meets the head estate manager and is posted downstairs to dust and figure out the job. The white-on-white set by Catherine Cornell gets colorized by lights (designed by Robert J. Aguilar) and is suggestive rather than representative. So, your imagination really gets a work-out.
Drummond plays Alex, Alex’s boyfriend Barry, a Jewish screenwriter whose feelings about Babs are generally negative due to a bit of jealousy of her fame and accomplishment, and of course, Barbra herself. His portrayal of Barbra is not an imitation, it’s a slightly awkward channeling, with contorted body, that you kind of have to get used to – but you do.
Director David Bennett has helped get the rhythm down to perfect timing. Every joke lands exactly as it should, every step matches the pattern laid by Tolins. This is a difficult show to get right. You can hear that from the script. But this one gets it so very, very right.
The relationship between the celebrity and the can’t-get-work actor is complex, sweet, and awkward. He’s unsure of when he gets overtime; she needs someone to talk to, but bristles at boiling down a friendship into dollars and cents. You know it’s got to end somehow, but how? Well, you won’t know till the very last minute of the piece. So sit back and enjoy and laugh.