Buyer & Cellar | The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Buyer & Cellar is the product of over-imagination being applied at its finest.

 

 

The premise for Jonathan Tolins’ one-man show Buyer & Cellar is utterly preposterous—a description used by the show’s only actor, Jeremy Webb, as the production opens. Webb, who plays Alex More, emphasizes there is nothing journalistic or factual about the performance to follow. Buyer & Cellar is the product of over-imagination being applied at its finest. Allow me to explain.

In 2010, Barbara Streisand published a coffee table book, entitled My Passion for Design. In this 295 page, hardcover tour of her homes, Streisand features a basement, which is hardly your typical living space. She transformed the room into a series of little shops, which house a variety of items she has accumulated over at least 50 years. Tolins was fascinated by this, and his intrigue led him to a question. What if Streisand were to hire a shopkeeper to tend to her treasures, she herself being the infrequent, but only customer? Buyer & Cellar hilariously entertains the notion, with moments of genuine raw sensitivity.

Alex More is struggling actor, recently fired from Disney. Desperate for work, and with experience in retail, he shows up to Streisand’s home to inquire about a job. However, he hardly knows a thing about the position he is applying for, and—most amusingly—does not know that this gated, ritzy home belongs to pop culture icon Streisand.  He is greeted—if you can even call it that—by a snippy, accented Sharon (who, of course, Webb also plays; don’t forget, this IS a one-man show). Sharon takes him down to the bizarre series of shops and requires him to agree to utmost confidentiality.

More’s boyfriend, Barry—a scriptwriter, who is also seemingly struggling in his career field—is thrilled for More initially, basically seeing the job as a networking opportunity. Barry is extremely cultured and sassy, but also vexingly cynical as the play progresses and his bitterness and jealousy surface.

When Streisand’s “character” makes her first appearance in the shop, More does his best to contain his internal, star-struck nervous bliss, and  a grand game of pretend ensues. Streisand feigns ignorance of her surroundings, inquiring about item prices and room for price negotiations, which keeps More on his toes, as nothing is even priced. Streisand—or Saddie, as she at first introduces herself—already owns it all. After his first encounter with her, More begins to anxiously anticipate each of her visits. Without them, his workdays are long, with only the whirring of the yogurt machine to serenade him. As an audience member, I too yearned for Streisand’s visits, as they are truly the only things that keep the plot moving. More’s boredom between visits really is palpable.

As is typical of The Rep’s studio series productions, the set design for this show is extremely basic. It consists of a beige, simplistic 60s background that has a 3-dimensional-esq pop. This background changes color as scenes transition. On stage there is only a podium, and a single chair. To his credit, Webb uses both effectively, even incorporating his water bottle as an improv prop when appropriate. Regardless, it is his verbal description of his surroundings that colors the basically propless stage.

In addition to sensory description after description, this play is absolutely full to the point of overflowing with pop culture references. While I don’t mention this as a criticism, I do intend it to be a warning to younger crowd members. Many of the quips were over my head, although, I commonly found myself laughing regardless just based on the fact that many others were laughing. Even Webb himself would laugh with the audience from time to time, clearly pleased that even his most obscure references were well-received.

Buyer & Cellar is essentially an hour and a half of adult story time. There isn’t a clear point to the story. The resolution isn’t very satisfying and left me wondering at what the greater point or theme of the show is (There are some, but they are not super obvious). Also, I found myself wondering if Streisand herself had seen the show and, if so, what she thinks of it. While in part it sympathetically portrays her as a deep and insightful individual behind all of her celebrity, it also at times suggests that she is ungrateful and materialistic. As of a 2013 interview with original Alex More, Michael Urie, only some people who work with her had seen it. Urie believes she would see the humor in it, and said that the production team who worked on his show had taken “great care in rehearsals to make sure it was fair and kind.”

The hype surrounding this show has been so great The Repertory Theatre has actually added more performances to its run. While the premise is odd, the show is funny and not one you’ll soon forget. If you haven’t seen a one-man show before, this is a great production to start with. Jonathan Webb brings five characters to life so impressively and flawlessly that the characterization of these “people” is the show’s most impressive element. | Megan Washausen

Buyer & Cellar runs through March 29, and again from April 2-5. For ticket information, visit repstl.org.

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