'Buyer and Cellar' at the Beck Center Is More Than Funny Fluff

Issues like fame, luxury and loneliness are tackled in the one-man play via a Barbara Streisand setup

click to enlarge 'Buyer and Cellar' at the Beck Center Is More Than Funny Fluff
Steve Wagner Photography

You think you've had odd jobs in your life? Probably not as weird as Alex in "Buyer & Cellar," now at the Beck Center for the Arts. Alex is a young wannabe actor hired to work in the basement of Barbra Streisand's opulent Malibu home. That is where (this part is true) she has created a faux shopping mall made up of different stores — one store for her fabulous gowns, another for her bounteous collection of dolls, etc.

That's strange enough on its face, but it only gets more bizarre when playwright Jonathan Tolins imagines how it might be when Streisand decides to come downstairs to visit her possessions, treating her Alex like a store clerk and arguing with him about the price of items that she already owns. Certainly, once Streisand became instantly recognizable in her early twenties, visits to the local mall were impossible, so she likely yearns for such quotidian pleasures. Such are the wages of fame.

B&C is a delightful and very funny bit of fluff, told by Alex to his skeptical live-in boyfriend. Yet Tolins manages to develop larger themes inside this "You're never gonna believe this..." yarn. He read about Bab's subterranean Legacy Village in her book, My Passion for Design, and let his imagination take over from there. The result is a lighter-than-air one-person show that pokes loving fun at Barbra while touching on her loneliness in the midst of mind-boggling luxury and abundance. Her husband James Brolin also gets his share of snark, but it's done with a deft touch.

All the roles, including Barbra herself, are played by the excellent actor Scott Esposito, who brings warmth and a sort-of baffled charm to the task. Even though he battled lines occasionally on opening night, he kept the pace tight and the humor sharp.

Of course, we have no idea if the Barbra Streisand represented here is even close to the truth. But there is a larger truth at hand involving the price of fame and the very real pain of self-acceptance, seen through the eyes of a gay man who is well aware of the gay community's love affair with Barbra.

Actually, the setup for this play isn't so odd when you think about it. Most of us have mementos of our lives stored in boxes and sitting in the basement, attic, or a storage facility. If we had the space and the inclination, we could pull them out, organize them by type (bowling trophies here, salt-and-pepper shaker collection there), and have our own mini-mall like Babs.

In part, the play is about trying to integrate memories into our daily lives, without having them blend too thoroughly. This may be why Alex is prohibited from coming upstairs to see the actual living space, until later in the play when he gets a surprise he wasn't expecting.

Director Jamie Koeth and scenic designer Dave Brooks have created a spare yet plush space for Esposito to occupy, and it works well. But the projections on three screens above the stage tend to be extraneous, frequently fuzzy, and lacking in wit.

Despite the wincingly forced pun of the title, this 90-minute piece has plenty of laughs and some startling depth. In short, it doesn't rain on her parade.

Buyer & Cellar
Through October 9 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, beckcenter.org, 216-521-2540.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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