Buyer and Cellar like “buttah” at Farmers Alley
KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Farmers Alley’s production of “Buyer and Cellar” is the third local Southwest Michigan production of the hilarious and wicked smart one-man show in the last 20 months. Every one of the three productions has been ridiculously fun and funny, presented with its own flair, and the fact that
this critic can enjoy the most recent production perhaps even more than the others speaks to the strength and longevity of the play itself and the success of Farmers Alley’s take on it.
Jonathan Tolins’ play is a work of fiction based on a ridiculous fact: Barbra Streisand built a shopping mall in her elaborate Malibu estate to display her decades-long acquisition of exquisite things. Tolins also met
Streisand once and she offered him a piece of her Kit-Kat bar. He ran with this knowledge and created a terrific comedy that imagines the experience of one sassy out-of-work actor who becomes the singular employee who dusts and gives the side eye to the dolls, cleans the dresses, and serves the frozen yogurt for the singular demanding customer in Streisand’s cellar of “shoppes.”
Heavy with pop culture references, especially to old Hollywood and Streisand’s career, it both celebrates and makes fun of gays, Jews, Brooklyn, and L.A., and the best audiences will be savvy about all of the
above and understand more than a little Yiddish.
Lee Slobotkin is perfectly adorable as Alex More, the two-bit L.A. actor who’s just been fired from a job as mayor of Toontown at Disneyland and lands the gig as the “stranger dressed as Mr. Whipple in [Barbra’s]
basement.” He’s fascinated by his own story and retelling, and that makes the audience hang on his every word, every seemingly improvised breaking into song, every leap, twirl and pirouette. Perhaps never has a static stage felt so full with just one actor and a handful of set pieces.
He also plays Barry, Alex’s marvelously snarky boyfriend, “an underemployed screenwriter and habitual watcher of Turner Classic Movies”; Sharon, Streisand’s personal assistant who suffers no fools and “looked like she had been through it”; James Brolin, with his “permanent questing squint”; and the diva, of course, herself.
Slobotkin’s Streisand is subtle. He can’t help but rely on signature gestures: brushing and tossing imaginary perfectly coiffed hair to the side; emphasizing the manicured fingernails. And he gets the deep Brooklyn accent right as well as the cadence of voice. But even more important than all that is how he milks the beautifully written script for real character. Barbra is no caricature in Slobotkin’s hands; she’s a living, breathing, sympathetic, complex, infuriating, nuanced and utterly lovable person with real highs and lows on stage without exceptional high drama.
This is a feat in itself; however, the greatest achievement and delight is the way Slobotkin captures Alex’s boyfriend Barry and their frenetic, impassioned scenes together. To communicate so many different characters at once without any other actors to play off—as well as the narrator who convincingly draws the audience into the drama and holds their attention while guiding them through it with little to no rest between laughs—is a brilliant achievement to say the least. He is absolutely a diva to match the diva herself.
Director Adam Weiner put together a fine cast and crew to produce this winning show for a true theatre-loving audience. Samantha A. Snow’s lighting effects and subtle shifts do heavy lifting for scenic and mood
changes; Garrett Gagnon’s music choices and sound effects also contribute heavily to creating mood as well as space and time; and W. Douglas Blickle’s minimal set provides everything Slobotkin needs to do his magic with storytelling.
Buyer and Cellar at Farmers Alley is a rare occasion in which the right show is in the right hands and they make the most of a wonderful gift.