To corrupt a line once uttered by Humphrey Bogart: “Of all the shopping malls in all the towns in all the world, he walks into mine.”
But the mall in Buyer & Cellar, the quirky little comedy in the Studio at Stage West, is no typical center of commerce. This one is in the basement of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu mansion where, apparently, many of her film and stage costumes, and other memorabilia, can be found in mock storefronts.
That much is documented in a 2010 book by Streisand, My Passion for Design. But the rest of the story told in this one-actor show by Jonathan Tolins is pure fiction — or at least we hope it is.
The secrets of Barbra’s basement are revealed to us by Alex (Doug Atkins), an out-of-work actor who is ready to pounce on any role or job, especially since his last gig at Toontown in Disneyland went so badly.
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On a tip from a friend, he goes to a palatial home in the most exclusive part of Los Angeles to apply for a vaguely described job for an unidentified employer. He is initially wary, but is thrilled when he learns that the home belongs to Streisand, because he regards his love for the singer as “part of my gay birthright.”
Alex soon learns that he will be managing a mall with only one customer: Streisand. And his sporadic encounters with the star are every bit as bizarre as you might expect. Their initial exchanges involve Streisand trying to purchase one of her own dolls from Alex, who stands firm on a price she does not want to pay. And then, as Alex and Streisand become closer, things get stranger still.
All of the elements of this production are worthy of praise, starting with Tolins’ script. His writing is crisp, funny and rapier-sharp. Listen especially for a rant about Brooklyn that Alex recounts for an example of Tolins’ superior skills.
Atkins delivers an outstanding performance in this 90-minute, one-act show directed by Stage West executive producer Dana Schultes. He paces his delivery well and his energy never flags.
The show also has a winning look thanks to an extensive renovation of this smaller space within Stage West, and a nice job on the lighting by Nate Davis. His plan provides a clear sense of change-of-place in this show that is played out on a bare stage.
The only problem with Buyer & Cellar is that if you do not share Alex’s God-given right to gush endlessly about Streisand (or swoon at the sight of one her dresses, as he often does), this material can be a bit much.
So go count the number of the singer’s LPs and CDs you own (and count the DVDs, too, omitting any she directed), and base your decision to attend on that total. If you hit double figures, this is the show of your dreams.