A Review of Buyer and Cellar

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by Gerry Roe

Amana – There are plays which purport to be accurate portrayals of human behavior, faithfully adhering to the realities of life, whether in ancient Rome or Greece, colonial America, or in contemporary settings, often choosing a particular segment of the population of a particular location, from run-down inner city streets or tenements, to drawing rooms of the affluent. Old Creamery’s production of Buyer and Cellar is not one of those plays. It is pure fantasy, as the lone actor tells us from the beginning, inspired by Barbra Streisand’s book, My Passion for Design. The book is real, the play it inspired is pure fiction.

Alex More, an unemployed actor, takes a job in Streisand’s mini mall, a series of shops (and one Shoppe) created in the cellar of a barn on her Malibu estate. The mall’s shops display her various collections including antiques, gifts, and clothing or costumes, all meticulously arranged by a perfectionist. The mall seems designed to attract customers, but there is only one customer, Streisand herself. But for even one customer there must be a sales clerk. More (played by Patrick Du Laney) applies for the job and after a grueling interview conducted by a woman who handles the more mundane of Streisand’s duties, including hiring and/or firing her minions. Sharon, of course, is Du Laney, one of the many characters he shares with us.

Early in the show Alex  tells us that he doesn’t “do” Barbra, meaning he doesn’t try to impersonate her as many entertainers, mostly men but even a few women, have more or less successfully attempted. Instead, he gives us a distillation of Streisand’s mannerisms and vocal patterns beginning with her entrance as the only “customer” in the mall. She admires a doll and Alex springs into an improvised history of the doll and its price, triggering negotiations some might say haggling over the price. But no sale. The “customer” leaves, to think it over, warning that she will be back.

One of the facts about Alex is that he is an unemployed gay actor with a boyfriend, Barry, who does not appear except as a voice on a telephone. Du Laney is delightful as he gives us both sides of the conversations, essentially arguing with himself. The conflict with Barry, who doesn’t seem to share Alex’s nearly reverential view of his employer, ultimately results in breaking off their relationship. This conflict, surfacing in the first telephone conversation we overhear, is eventually resolved and at least that part of Alex’s life seems to be looking up. It comes, however, only after Alex has lost his job in the mall following a difficult encounter with Streisand the perfectionist.

Du Laney and his director, Christopher Okiishi have created an intelligent and engrossing performance of this play. If I had any quibble about the production it would be that Alex’s sexuality seems to rely on some rather obvious “signals” including the limp-wristed, hands on hips character we see in the first scene. In fairness, though, it is important that we understand something about Alex’s character immediately. The character is, finally, more “real” than the play which is, as we are informed in the first scene, a purely fictitious fantasy.

Unfortunately, the play’s run ends today. Check out the Old Creamery’s full season, including their studio stage series, here.

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