I saw “Buyer and Cellar” back in 2014 at the Barrow Street Theater on Barrett Foa’s first night in the piece. It originally was done at the Rattlestick Playwright’s Theater with Michael Urie (“Ugly Betty”), from where it moved to Barrow Street. It is a one-man show that is a tour-de-force for any actor brave enough to take it on.
Written by Jonathan Tolin, who created the much more serious “Twilight of the Golds,” this is the story of Alex More, an erstwhile gay actor in L.A. who has been trying to break into show business, but whose latest gig, which ended badly, was Mayor of Toontown at Disneyland. A friend he had a tryst with on the Matterhorn at Disney gets him an opportunity at a house in Malibu. This opportunity is cloaked in secrecy and it turns out to be the chance of a lifetime — to work for Barbra Streisand!
The Bucks County Playhouse, no doubt, thought this would be a good vehicle for them — a one-person, winsome romp with a winsome actor that would be low cost and fun for the audience — which is all true. But the added virtue of seeing it now is that, at the end of a political season where there has been a bit of canonization of the candidates by the masses that follow them, the premise of blind devotion and eventual disillusionment when you realize your superstar is not exactly as they seem, makes for timely comedic commentary.
The play came into existence because Barbra’s coffee table design book, “My Passion for Design,” which offered detailed insight into the life of Ms. Streisand, and was purchased by Jonathan Tolin’s husband in 2010. Streisand has always been known for her precise attention to detail and personal style, and the tome featured the main house, a barn, a mill, a garden — a theatrical production in itself.
But what’s interesting about seeing the diva’s home is the discovery that, like many of us, she is a collector. And that was one part of the book that really captivated Tolin’s imagination. In an article he authored concerning the genesis of the play in the New York Times in 2013, Tolin said, “But what most excited me was the mall. In the basement of the barn on the estate, there’s a street of shops built solely to display Barbra’s collections. There’s Bee’s Doll Shop, a “gift shoppe,” an antique clothes boutique and so on.” This mall was inspired by a visit by Ms. Streisand to the decorative arts museum Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Winterthur, Delaware.
And thinking about collecting and “how fun and funnily peculiar” it is to have a mall of shops for your collectibles in your basement, Tolin juxtaposed that idea with hiring a gay actor to care for her mall. What ensues is a funny play about status, the loneliness of being an icon, and the idolization of the famous.
Nick Cearley is magnificent as Alex More, the erstwhile actor/Streisand curator who, within 100 non-stop minutes, tells the tale by becoming in turn his loving, yet critical, boyfriend, Barry, along with James Brolin, and of course, the divine Ms. Streisand. Cearley can be remembered from the Bucks County Playhouse’s “The Rocky Horror Show” and “Plaid Tidings.” He is also well-known as one half of “The Skivvies.” With Lauren Molina, they sing for their supper in their underwear. It is hilarious, camp and great musicianship, and they will be appearing at he Playhouse on Feb. 24, 2017.
What is on display in this production is the depth of Cearley’s acting chops. He is tireless, invested in his story, and is brilliant in painting the world of Alex and Babs. If you were an admirer of this young man’s talent before, having seen him in musicals, you will come away with an even deeper admiration of his talents after seeing him in “Buyer and Cellar.”
For those who want a respite from all the recent political rancor, why not hang out at the mall? The one in Barbra Streisand’s basement on display at the Bucks County Playhouse through Nov. 26 is the place to go. It will be one of the blessings to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Tickets are available online.