ARTS

Michael Urie, Buyer and Cellar Michael Urie stars in Jonathan Tolins' Buyer and Cellar. Photo: Joan Marcus
Buyer and Cellar
By Jonathan Tolins
Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre, 53 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell. March 19, 2015

Well who knew that Barbra Streisand has her own private mall in the basement of her Malibu estate?

The truth came out in 2010 when she produced a lavish coffee-table book entitled My Passion for Design. This impeccably art-directed guide to her home and tchotchkes revealed that Barbra likes to hoard. So do people in reality shows but this is hoarding on a different plateau. To be fair to her, she at least devised a way of displaying her collection of antiques and costumes so she could regularly visit them. The rest of us just make do with 'Big Yellow Storage'.

Anyway, this gloriously endearing one-man play by Jonathan Tolins uses these amazing facts as a springboard for a flight of fantasy. Imagine if she hired someone (it would have to be a gay man) to be the shop assistant? There would only be one customer and she may not get there every day but so what. When she does appear she'd probably haggle over prices...

...She does!

What lifts this 100 minute monologue above the level of a flimsy Edinburgh Festival type sketch show for the gay-friendly crowd is the quality of Tolins writing, the direction of Stephen Brackett and an effervescent central performance by Michael Urie (late of Ugly Betty). Off-Broadway, Urie has deservedly won a Drama Desk, a Clarence Derwent and a Lucille Lortel Award for this.

Tolins imagines that a gay out of work actor named Alex Moore, fired from Disneyworld after telling some brat to stick his churro where the sun doesn't shine, is employed to service this subterranean grotto. In the process he develops a relationship, of a kind, with The Customer. For any gay Barbra fan (and there are a few) such a gig might be akin to dying and going to heaven and the piece explores the star and her relationship with her fans and her fame.

Tolins cleverly deflects the frequent and typical criticisms of Streisand by putting them into the mouth of Alex's boyfriend, a struggling screenwriter who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the star but who combines this haughty expertise with more than a hint of jealousy. Urie, who plays all the parts, is expert at delineating each character and as well as the boyfriend we get Sharon (the star's hardboiled PA) and a charming James Brolin (Mr Streisand). He never impersonates Streisand (no drag show here), but with voice and gesture he carefully evokes the star and renders her a sympathetic character. The piece deftly explores her loneliness (what 55 years at the top can do) and the constant disappointment of the perfectionist.

Urie bounds around the stage with a camp energy, which is totally beguiling and the gay, Jewish, New York wit is side-splittingly funny. His tart deconstruction of the plot of The Mirror Has Two Faces is worth the price of admission alone.

The piece though is so subtly crafted that even an audience of Barbra agnostics should totally get it. Neither a hagiography nor a hatchet job, it is rather a gloriously witty homage to a flawed but eternally fascinating woman.

Tickets: www.menierchocolatefactory.com

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