Review: ‘Buyer & Cellar’ at Theatre Aspen
If You Go …
What: ‘Buyer & Cellar,’ presented by Theatre Aspen
Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park
When: Through Aug. 19
How much: $29-$100
Tickets: www.theatreaspen.org; 970-300-4474
People who need people are the luckiest people in the world, as the bard Barb said. But people who seem to have everything, like Barbra Streisand, may need people to mind the shops in the decadent personal European-styled mini-malls housed beneath their sprawling Malibu estates.
This is the premise of Jonathan Tolins’ “Buyer & Cellar,” running through Aug. 19 in a Theatre Aspen production at the Hurst Theatre. The one-man show stars a sweet and hysterical Jeffrey Correia as the guy hired to be the shopkeeper in Streisand’s luxurious lair.
The play opens with the house lights up and Correia strolling into the theater, humming “Memories,” sitting on the edge of the stage, and explaining in no uncertain terms that “This is a work of fiction,” repeating himself a great many times to protect this unlicensed play from the “litigious” Ms. Streisand.
“None of this is real,” he says with a smirk. “I don’t exist.”
What does exist, however, is Streisand’s 2010 coffee table book “My Passion for Design,” which details her subterranean mall and provides the kernel of truth for the comedy’s charming blend of camp and sentimentalism.
“What if someone had to work down there?” Correia asks before the lights go down. He then becomes Alex More, an out-of-work actor recently fired from a gig in Disneyland’s Toon Town who finds himself as the lone employee of Streisand’s mall, on hand to serve its only customer.
He is issued a shopkeeper’s uniform (Donna Karan, natch) and gets to work dusting and manning Streisand’s meticulous shoppes (“shop-eeze” in More’s smirking appraisal) including a vintage clothing boutique, doll store, popcorn stand and frozen yogurt bar.
His retelling of his first few days at work is a laugh-a-beat whirlwind. Alex’s first meeting with “the lady of the house” is laugh-out-loud hilarious. She descends the basement stairs and tests a flustered and star-struck Alex, forcing him to improvise as she haggles with him over the price of a bubble-blowing doll. (Why is she buying a doll she already owns, in her basement, and presenting a coupon? Why not? Locals who’ve tended to the massive manses and egos of Aspen’s own eccentric mega-rich will no doubt recognize some of the personality quirks and power dynamics at play here.)
Alex and Babs bond and soon become something like friends, with Streisand retelling the story of the water bottle she used as a doll during her hardscrabble childhood and the cold bed she shared with her mother (“Colder than Aspen!”) and Alex eventually begins serving as her acting coach.
Loving Babs is, as Alex puts it, is his “gay birthright,” but he’s no superfan. His more effusive boyfriend, Barry, is a card-carrying aficionado. Alex’s rapid-fire back-and-forths at home with Barry — including an epic rant about “The Mirror Has Two Faces” — prove to be a high point. And their clash over Alex’s subservient role provides the play’s heart.
Directed by Maurice LaMee, “Buyer & Cellar” makes use of a simple set backed by surreal projections of images rendered in the Max Ernst style — a pair of pristinely manicured hands, for instance, holding a doll house — that enhance the absurdity of the one-man onstage action.
Whether the play works, of course, depends on its sole cast member. Correia brings a subtle physicality and endearing tenderness to the role. He’s always moving, ever gesticulating, and transforming into eight characters using simple shifts in posture and voice. He embodies Streisand, for instance, with a slight squint and purse of his lips, adding her hint of Brooklyn to his voice, raising his wrists and landing in a sweet spot between homage and parody.
Correia’s performance is the accumulation of small gestures combined with impeccable timing (his Streisand’s slight gasp at the mention of a rug from Home Depot, for example, lands perfectly). The effect is like listening to a great story, told by a good friend with a snarky streak who has a knack for off-the-cuff impressions, a witty turn of phrase and encyclopedic pop culture fluency.
Eventually, perhaps inevitably, there’s a falling out between Alex and Barbra. The turn the play takes at that point elevates it from what might have been just a funny diversion about celebrity excess. Somewhere between the frozen yogurt machine and the doll shop, “Buyer & Cellar” hits a true and touching note about the loneliness of fame, the meaning of friendship and the trap of materialism.
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