Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
April 17, 2015
“What’s it like ?… To have been at the top for so long ?, ” Alex asks Barbra. Though he’s a fictional character, she’s, well, Barbra Streisand. The question is valid, and the answer remains the same, across the centuries: no matter how much fame, fortune or celebrity is attained, people still carry the beat-up baggage of their damaging youth.
Ms. Streisand will never shake off her Brooklyn poverty. And maybe that’s why she obsessively buys and hoards, at least according to Jonathan Tolins , who wrote the charming solo show, “Buyer and Cellar ,” now making its San Diego premiere at The Old Globe.
Streisand does, in fact, have an entire shopping mall in the basement of her Malibu mansion. She is its only customer. Tolins has created Alex, an under-employed actor, to become the shopkeeper of those Streisand stores, spending his days dusting, arranging, coveting, and waiting for his demanding purchaser to arrive. Gradually, they develop a friendship of sorts, and he even becomes her acting coach.
The 2013 comedy doesn’t ridicule Babs, except for suggesting that she treats people like objects or acquisitions. And that she’s not a terrifically happy camper.
Broadway veteran David Turner is delightful company as Alex… and Barbra, and her supercilious house manager, and his snarky, jealous boyfriend, Barry. Turner doesn’t exactly impersonate Streisand, but he nails her facial expressions and mannerisms. He takes us into his confidence, sharing his stories as he switches effortlessly among the characters, who are subtly differentiated.
He flops around the spare, ultra-modern set on the White’s arena stage; we’re meant to imagine the shops and the whirring frozen yogurt machine, and the descriptions are vivid enough to pique our imaginations.
Amid all the name-dropping, pop culture and theater references, and quippy one-liners, an undertone of sadness lurks: a sense that there’s a considerable amount of loneliness at the top – and on the lower rungs as well. The play’s comical conceit underscores the delusion of our blind, envious idol-worship.
“Buyer and Cellar ” runs through May 10, in the Old Globe’s White Theatre, in Balboa Park.
©2015 PAT LAUNER