“Buyer and Cellar” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

It’s a pretty crazy premise: a man working alone in a shopping mall created by Barbra Streisand underneath her home. But hold on – the bit about the shops, designed to hold Streisand’s various collections, is true. Jonathan Tolins’ award-winning one man play, Buyer and Cellar, overflows with jokes that arise from this bizarre scenario, while serving as a tremendous vehicle for Michael Urie, as out-of-work actor Alex, giving one of the most endearing performances you’re likely to see.

Alex’s meeting with Streisand, who Urie also plays, makes for an enchanting fiction. Stephen Brackett’s direction carefully preserves a spontaneous feel that makes Alex so personable. His mix of wry humour and naïve enthusiasm goes to the heart of a play very much about cynicism. There are great one-liners, slow-burning gags and plenty of observations about gay life. With a Jewish mother joke as well, of course.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any camper, Alex starts to coach Streisand for a new film version of Gypsy. And if the casting strikes you as impractical as quickly as it does Alex’s boyfriend (another character Urie conveys impressively), then this is the play for you.

Buyer and Cellar works hard to be more than an extended comedy sketch: looking at the nature of celebrity and questions of self-worth. There’s a West Coast wisdom behind a lot of the jokes that stays with you. It has to be admitted that a knowledge of Streisand, a Yiddish dictionary and familiarity with LA helps – but even without these (believe it or not) I roared with laughter. How Tolins manages to take so many swipes at his icon without the piece feeling mean, while cleverly using Streisand’s status to create his own art, makes his play unique and somehow quite magical. He’s a mensch.

Until 2 May 2015


Photo by Joan Marcus

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