Our endless fascination with celebrities and how they “really” behave has become so much more than a cottage industry. Despite insider profiles running a gamut from grocery store tabloids to The New York Times Magazine (not to mention casually hanging out on network television with Jimmy Fallon), we have a sneaking suspicion that stars are either holding back or putting on.
Still it’s hard not to wonder. If we told George Clooney a joke, would he laugh and think we were clever? Or if the situation were right, could Oprah really be a pal? In this “What if?” sweet spot sits the hilarious new B Street Theatre one-man comedy “Buyer & Cellar,” by Jonathan Tolins.
Tolins has created the imaginary situation in which a clever, slightly cynical and matter-of-fact gay actor named Alex Moore gets a job working for Barbra Streisand. Actually, Alex works in the basement of Streisand’s Malibu estate watching over the various little “shoppes,” Alex’s word for the collections of Streisand ephemera, including costumes and props from her movies, weird things she’s bought over the years and even a candy store with a working yogurt machine whirring away the solitary hours.
As an introduction, Alex explains to the audience the show is inspired by the actual existence of Streisand’s 2010 coffee table book “My Passion for Design,” but what takes place is purely fiction created by Tolins. “That’s important when you’re talking about someone as famous, talented and litigious as Barbra Streisand,” Alex says.
B Street has imported Nick Cearley from New York to play Alex, and Cearley fills Alex with a droll, easygoing charm. Alex winks at how unlikely it all seems to be, but still he’s willing to play along.
The book details La Streisand’s efforts to get the various architectural and aesthetic details of her estate just right. Photographs for the book were taken by Streisand. “I wonder how she got her,” Alex muses.
He tells us he will play all the characters in the story, Barry (his boyfriend), the gruff housekeeper and eventually even Barbra. Alex doesn’t really “do” Streisand, he warns, but when the star does eventually appear in the basement, there are suggestions of her voice, the tone and rhythm, and a certain regal bearing.
It’s subtle but suggestive, and elsewhere Cearley shows exquisite instincts and timing as he lands joke after joke in Tolins’ fable.
There’s also an endearing vulnerability to Alex/Nick’s Barbra, which eases us into the play’s exploration of stardom and how easily it seduces us. After Barbra haggles with Alex over the price of an antique French doll (which she already owns) it seems a relationship has been forged. But what kind of relationship can a reclusive superstar have with a young actor who has no prospects?
Director David Pierini carefully pitches us into this odd, unnatural world with a strong assist from Meg McGuigan‘s scenic and projection design. There’s plenty to laugh at here and enough to think about that it’s more than simply fun and games.
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BUYER & CELLAR
What: A one-man show about an under-employed actor in Los Angeles who is hired to work in the private basement mall of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Thursdays and 1 p.m. Sundays through May 9
Where: B Street Theatre B2 Space, 2727 B St., Sacramento
Cost: $23-$35, $5 student rush
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission