First, let’s hear it for anyone, anywhere, who takes on the daunting task of a one-person show. Can we all just agree that that takes some kind of wild stamina and a combination of good humor and talent? Good. Moving on.
Doug Atkins as Alex More (and various others) in Johnathan Tolins’ Buyer & Cellar at Main Street Theater is a joy-filled romp through possibly the most absurd story ever told. And we’re told right off the bat that it’s so absurd, it absolutely never happened—especially since it deals with someone as private and litigious as the one and only Barbra Streisand.
Following a failed tenure as the Mayor of Toon Town at Disneyland for a scandal we won’t repeat here, out-of-work actor Alex lands a gig at La Streisand’s house. Well, not her house, exactly. Her cellar. Only, not just any cellar—not one where there are creepy crawling things and the skeletons of hobbies past. No, Babs’ cellar is tricked out like an Old World street, with charming antique shops, a clothing store and a cute little spot with a popcorn cart and a whirring frozen yogurt machine. As this darling little village’s only employee, Alex’s job is keep things tidy and occasionally—but respectfully—interact with the superstar herself. But only when she initiates contact. And only if she wants it.
It’s a recipe for a certain kind of suspension of belief, and Atkins pulls it off with brilliant, well-timed aplomb. He swans and swishes and offers sly asides and lets us in on secrets. His ability to flow seamlessly from Mark to his boyfriend Barry to his boss to Babs herself is a dizzying delight. His canny observations about life and connection live in synch with his catty commentary.
Brandon Weinbrenner directs the piece with a deft hand, keeping a brisk pace and giving us enough time and space on occasion to digest what we’ve just seen and heard. Marcos Everstijn’s set is a simple chaise lounge and end table, and a dramatic shop window revealing the gown Barbra wore in Funny Girl. It’s intimate, elegant, and perfect for the show, augmented with J. Mitchell Cronin’s warm lighting.
The play builds off Streisand’s book, My Passion for Design, a coffee table, House Beautiful affair that chronicles the love the singer has for her Connecticut-meets-California colonial retreat—complete with photos taken by her very own hand. The show is a gauzy snowglobe of who we are: as celebrity watchers, as people—and how things that haunt us also make us both reach out and close ranks. As Buyer & Cellar builds to its conclusion, you’ll find you have much more to ponder than you may have thought.
So, go for the romp and escapism. But take away the heft with the laughs.
Thru Aug. 12. Tickets from $36. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. 713-524-6706. More info and tickets at mainstreettheater.com.