What if? This question leads to many places, but at the Beck Center for the Arts it leads into icon Barbra Streisand’s basement. Running now through October 9 in the Studio Theatre, BUYER AND CELLAR by Jonathan Tolins is a fictitious stroll that takes audiences into a strange world through the caverns beneath Babs’ home.
Directed by Jamie Koeth, the comedy is a one-man tour led by Alex Scott (played by Scott Esposito), a gay, out-of-work actor looking for his next gig. Having been fired from Disneyland (where there was an incident), he finds himself interviewing for a mysterious position. He’s intrigued by what career opportunity requires his discretion AND his superior retail skills, and he’s flabbergasted to find that he’ll be working for THE queen of song, stage, and screen: Barbra Streisand.
The play is a little bit reality, and a little bit fantasy. Right in the beginning, Alex states that Barbra has “a shopping mall in the basement – this is the part that’s real.” In her real 2010 book entitled, “My Passion for Design,” Ms. Streisand documents her many acquisitions and discusses her eye for design and beauty. These interests and collections are what inspired her to create an “old-timey” mall in her basement, which is where the fiction of Alex comes in. What if someone actually worked in that mall? What if they were the only employee, and Barbra was the only customer?
So we journey with Alex into the bowels of the home where he is in charge of keeping everything perfect in the small shopping center. Featured here are a doll store, a candy shoppe, and a costume boutique displaying gorgeous gowns and other getups from Barbra’s storied career. The first few days at work he’s silently alone – he explores, he cleans, he talks to the dolls. He notes the sights and sounds that keep him company as time drones on, “Yogurt Machine. Popcorn Maker. Whir.” And then it happens – SHE finally descends the staircase into the labyrinth of her home. What will he do? How will he react? Will he say the right thing (thank goodness for his improv background)?
But this story is not just about Alex. It’s about his boyfriend, his past co-workers, those kids at Disneyland, and definitely about his new boss – there are many people in this strange world. It’s a whirlwind of personalities and wink-wink-nudge-nudge jokes – enough that it’s easy to get lost in some of the Barbra lore, Jewish phrases, gay lifestyle, and nods to Hollywood if you’re not paying attention. And it’s all in glorious fun.
The most amazing part of this play is that it’s 90 minutes (no intermission) of Esposito playing every character, embodying every single one with ease. Juggling hundreds of lines without a break, Esposito is an engaging storyteller who moves in and out of each character like a breeze. His delivery is personable, and the descriptions of his world are so exquisite that it’s like the audience is experiencing it with him.
It’s not necessary to be a Barbra fanatic to enjoy this romp in the private cellar, and it helps if you’re humored by all of the excesses of a wealthy and flamboyant lifestyle. Bring your dreams of glamour to the Beck Center for BUYER AND CELLAR. Tickets are $12-$38, and information is available at www.beckcenter.org.