Review: 'Buyer and Cellar' at Westport Country Playhouse

Review: 'Buyer and Cellar' at Westport Country Playhouse

James Cooper

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

The Westport Country Playhouse has imported the off-Broadway production of Fairfield resident Jonathan Tolins’ “Buyer and Cellar,” including the set, the director (Stephen Brackett) and the fabulously talented star Michael Urie. This comic semi-fantasy was inspired by Barbra Streisand’s book My Passion for Design, in which her photographs show her gorgeous Malibu estate (much of which looks like it belongs in New England).

But, in reading her book, people discovered that she had created a mini-mall of “shoppes” in her basement, each one displaying collections of her “stuff,” including costumes, knick-knacks, and dolls, as well as a frozen yoghurt machine and a popcorn machine. This led to any number of snarky comments about this mall, including who exactly is/are its customer(s). Presumably just Ms Streisand.

Michael Urie in “Buyer & Cellar,” written by Jonathan Tolins, and directed by Stephen Brackett, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through July 3.  (203) 227-4177.  www.westportplayhouse.org      Photo by Carol Rosegg

Michael Urie in “Buyer & Cellar,” written by Jonathan Tolins, and directed by Stephen Brackett, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through July 3.  (203) 227-4177.  www.westportplayhouse.org      Photo by Carol Rosegg

Tolins’ play is a monolog, ably performed by Urie, in which standing outside the proscenium, he explains that this is a work of fiction and begs Barbra not to sue them. Then he steps into the frame, playing Alex More, an actor recently dismissed from playing a character (Mayor of Toonville) at Disneyland. Feeling sorry for dismissing him, the Disney casting director lets him know of a role he could take on in Malibu, which turns out to be the shopkeeper for all the stores in Barbra’s mini-mall.

That’s the premise, and to a large degree the only joke that Urie has to riff on. He hangs around and eventually gets to actually meet Barbra and sells her some of her stuff. Since he notes that there is no cash register or cash drawer, you are left to puzzle out what happens to Streisand’s cash.

Alex More is gay and has a boyfriend he refers to, but this is just Urie’s show, and he chooses to be so flamboyantly gay, prancing about, waving his arms and so forth, that it is distracting from what little comedy there is, and just adds to the show’s running time.

Much of the audience laughed at the quips that Urie is given, but some did not, and I started looking at my watch about 9 pm, when a few people began to leave. While the show is billed as 90 minutes without intermission, it actually ended about 9:50, by which time a few others had left as well.

One of the fantasies Tolin gives Alex is that he suggests to Barbra that she would make a great Mama Rose in Gypsy, and she asks him to rehearse her in the part, even though, as Alex admits, it is hardly credible that a seventy-year old lady would have a 5 year old daughter. In a case of life imitating art, it appears that such a movie is now in the works.

Buyer and Cellar is a mildly amusing play based on the missing Ms Streisand and ably performed by Mr Urie, but it is not great theater despite its Off-Broadway awards. You may enjoy it, though because of its preposterous premise. 

It runs through July 3 at the Westport Country Playhouse, and tickets are available on their web site.

 

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