Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Buyer & Cellar
This is a fictional work set in an actual locale: the "shopping mall" which occupies the basement sector of Barbra Streisand's home in Malibu. Alex is the facilitator and he cannot believe his good fortune for he is surrounded by Streisand tchotchkes and such. Alex pretends that she is there and he imagines his interface with her. On a chaise lounge, this actor (who was out of work) communicates with his boyfriend Barry. Early on, Alex explains to the audience that what will transpire "could not possibly have happened with a person as famous, talented, and litigious as Barbra Streisand."
Alex adores Barbra and at times "becomes" Streisand. He wisely does not precisely make an attempt to imitate but his vocal rendering has something of her lilt to itsimultaneously breathy and nasal. A clerk of sorts, Alex has an array of shops to managethe singer is quite an accumulator. She (as the dexterous performer Lenk plays her) asks for the pricing on a doll. The real Streisand wrote all about her downstairs space in the book "My Passion for Design," which Alex often displays.
So it goes for approximately two-thirds of the production. Lenk's work is to be fully admired and Tolins' play is catchy if not consistently hilarious. All of this turns, very much for the better, when Streisand and More (Lenk making instant transfer) interface and she, when questioned, admits that she most wishes that she were pretty and if only that were acknowledged. She eventually gives in to a yen for playing a pivotal role in Gypsy.
There's the question of whether Streisand is utilizing More for her own purposes. She is the customer and he is the one who is employed to keep everything going. Further, could Alex and Barbra actually forge a friendship? That theme amplifies as quick, supple comedy (wisely) becomes secondary.
This piece, as it plays in Hartford, belongs to Tom Lenk. He flavors Diva Streisand's persona with zest. An actor who tends to specifics, it is easy to envision his care if ever literally dusting one of Barbra's dolls. Lenk is hyper-energetic but never out of control. His performance is fueled yet disciplined. It would be fun to see what discoveries he would make if ever given the opportunity to take on another mega-performer. Lenk, as Alex, is a casual, colloquial, friendly sortthe type of person worth a conversation or two, or more.
Rob Ruggiero, directing, gives his deft and energized actor freedom to create. Lenk's presence is warm and inviting. Hence, he draws in a rapt audience. Luke Hegel-Cantarella has chosen a simple yet evocative set design which allows Lenk to play outto and for theatergoers in this cozy house. Rob Denton adds lighting and projection design. Zachary Moore is sound designer. Before the performance opens, observers are treated to much of Barbra through video clips of her films.
Masterful with her vocals both on stage and elsewhere, the actual Barbra Streisand, nevertheless, has been known to stay to herself. Now, amid the hum, perhaps, of the yogurt machine, Tolins has penned a singular take in a play which invents and then shifts tone. What happens when a struggling gay actor, seeking a job, forms a relationship with a star who has had many a personal and professional adventure? Jonathan Tolins provides nifty glimpses. Without doubt, he is a gifted writer. His scripting rides along, even if quips come and go.
Buyer & Cellar continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut through February 14th. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.