Friday, November 06, 2015

Play: On a Clear Day

Buyer and Cellar by Jonathan Tolins, Directed by David Bennett, through 22 November, Seattle Rep.

True confession? I'm not a big Streisand fan. I have friends who are big fans of hers, but I just merely like her stuff, which sounds kind of small-minded, since her "stuff" includes award-winning movies, Broadway, music, and public works and excelling in all those things. So I feel a little petty when the best I can sum up is "Wasn't she was good in 'What's Up, Doc?'"

Not Shown - Basement Mall
Similarly, I don't get the haters, either. Yeah, I hear the whole nine yards of being demanding and private and litigious, but had to go look up the Streisand Effect on the wikipedia, which apparently stems from the fact that she tried to squash a picture of her mansion in Malibu, and as a result called attention to said picture and spread it far and wide (the Wiki page shows the picture she was trying to squelch, and actually does have some bearing on this review).

So I'm lukewarm on Barbra. But Buyer & Cellar? That's laugh-out loud funny.

Here's the reality at the core of it all: In the basement of Streisand's Mansion's Barn (you can see it in the photo), there is a mall. Or rather, all of Streisand's stuff is stored in this basement as a recreation of a series of old-timey shops. Sort of a personal museum crossed with a glorified U-Stuff-It.

Jonathan Tolins wondered aloud in his blog about what it would be like to work in that underground mall, with its various specialty shops along with a popcorn machine and smoothie-maker - a mall with effectively one customer. And that turned into a long, wonderful, one-act called Buyer and Cellar.

Alex Moore (A delightful Scott Drummond) is that friend who you get together with every so often for lunch and dish like a couple old women. He's a would-be actor banned from working in Disneyland after an "incident" at Toon-Town. This sort of one-actor play demands from the outset that you like the one actor, and Drummond is likable in spades. We are pulling for him from the get-go as he confidentially leans towards you and tells you that everything you're about to hear is imaginary. And you don't care.

After the Toon-Town debacle, Alex gets a gig in the mansion's cellar, tending to the exhibits, dusting, and awaiting the arrival of "The Customer". And it is every bit as weird as it sounds. Drummond dances between the characters of Alex, his support network (his boyfriend), the house staff (a Frau-Blucher-like intermediate), James Brolin (complete with Capricorn One reference) and Barbra herself. Drummond doesn't "do" Streisand like an impressionist, but rather gives enough conversational takes to capture the character (though I will admit that some of his Barbraesque reactions verge on the Nora Desmond, and an air of Sunset Boulevard hangs over the proceedings).

And it is funny. Laugh-out loud funny. You like Alex, and you both appreciate Barbra and recognize the humor in the huge gulf between Employer/Superstar/Customer and Property Manager/Property Alex. But more importantly, every joke lands. OK, there are couple references to famous interior designers that went right over my head, but Tolins' handling of modern popular culture and modern life is spot on. In five years most of the references will feel as creaky as watching on old episode of the Red Skelton Show, but for this moment and this point in time, it is hilarious.

I am trying to remember the last show I saw this funny at the REP. There have been funny shows, shows with humor, shows with jokes, but they tend to be harnessed to a greater purpose. Buyer and Cellar addresses that whole American class-system-by-success, but that's not its real purpose. Instead, it takes a ridiculous situation, twists it to make if more ridiculous, and lets fly. After the inevitable Greek tragedy of A View from the Bridge, this is a delightful little lift of a play.

More later,