Shopping at Barbra’s place: Buyer & Cellar. A Fringe review

Gregory Caswell in Buyer and Cellar. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Buyer & Cellar, Stage 10 (Acacia Hall)

It can’t possibly be true. And yet it is.

Yes, Barbra Streisand, mega-star celebrity and über-shopper, does have an entire mall in her basement. That’s the bizarre, open-for-satire, real-life proposition of this funny, whimsical fantasy spun from preposterous truth.

You can see the documentary evidence with your own two eyes in the hard-cover tome that Alex More (the puckishly charming Gregory Caswell) is waving at us, gleefully, at the outset of Jonathan Tolins’s Off-Broadway solo hit Buyer & Cellar. I checked. On amazon.ca you can snap up My Passion For Design, Barbra’s 2010 coffee table ode to her own exquisite taste (published by Viking) for as little as $54.26, with more deluxe editions at $139.06 (“only 1 left in stock – order soon”).

“Remember, this the part that’s real!” says Alex of the subterranean array of quaint faux-19th century shops under Barbra’s vast Malibu estate where she keeps her stuff: a tribute to  “decades of fame, fortune, and unbridled acquisition.”

The not-real part, extrapolated in witty fashion, is that even if it has but a sole customer (“the lady of the house”), a pretend mall cries out for a pretend sales clerk. Alex, our narrator, is the out-of-work gay L.A. actor, who lands a job minding the stores. And the fun of Buyer & Cellar is the seductive way Alex draws us into his incremental encounters with celebrity stardom — from play-acting with “Sadie” (as his employer wants to be called at first) to the illusion of friendship.    

In Barbara Mah’s production, Caswell is impressively dexterous as Alex who, like the play he’s in, develops a certain unexpected sympathy for his multi-talented imperious celebrity employer, despite her grotesque consumption habits. As for Barbra’s secret dream to play Mama Rose, let’s just not go there. He conjures a gallery of characters, notably his choleric failed-screenwriter boyfriend Barry, who offers a withering running commentary on everything Streisand, including her legion of gay disciples. 

And as for the grande dame herself, Caswell wisely doesn’t go where too many have gone before: she’s not an impersonation, just a husky voice with some New Yawk in the accent.

There’s a sadder but wiser tone that filters through the acid hilarity in this odd, light piece, and Caswell doesn’t shortchange it. Our relationship with celebrity is a queasy one, and Buyer & Cellar is smart about that. Lightweight, and something more. 

(As seen at a preview)

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