Buyer and Cellar

December 6, 2015

in Plays

Play (2013)
by Jonathan Tolins

Directed by Courtney O’Connor

Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Copley Square area, Boston
December 4, 2015 – January 3, 2016

Scenic Design: Anthony R. Phelps

With Phil Tayler (Alex More, et al)

Phil Tayler as Alex More in 'Buyer and Cellar'

Phil Tayler as Alex More
in “Buyer and Cellar”
Photo: Mark S. Howard
Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

A terrifically funny and well-acted fantasy about a guy who gets hired to work in Barbra Streisand’s personal basement mall.

A extrapolated fiction based on a curiosity about Barbra Streisand’s home, this very witty and amusing spoof places its central character, Alex More (Phil Tayler), as Barbra’s employee, hired to staff the seemingly actual mini-mall that she has installed in her basement.

Taking its cue from My Passion for Design (2010) by Streisand which describes her desire to display some of her acquisitions in simulated shops in her cellar, the avowedly fictional play improvises quite brilliantly on this factual germ.

At the outset, Tayler’s Alex avers that this is a work of fiction – itself a wonderful semiological joke for a fictional character – stated in no uncertain terms.

A left-handed comment by Alex about this story not showing up on the celebrated public radio show This American Life refers obliquely to the Mike Daisey story about Apple’s factories in China which were, on the one hand, presented as factual, and, on the other, as dramatic interpretations and extensions of the truth. (In the end, the Daisey debacle caused journalistic embarrassment of the part of the This American Life team and ultimately an official retraction of the story by that team, with follow-up stories by them to correct the misrepresentations in the original Daisey account.)

Phil Tayler as Alex More in 'Buyer and Cellar'

Phil Tayler as Alex More
in “Buyer and Cellar”
Photo: Mark S. Howard
Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Nonetheless, playwright Jonathan Tolins has created an extremely witty and entertaining diversion that plays upon elements of reality while having a completely good time with its departures from it.

Referring to the actual basement mall, Alex comments: This is some serious shitIt’s as though your grandmother designed the Apple store. From that point on, everything else is fantasy. And though Streisand herself, and James Brolin, Streisand’s actual husband, show up as characters in the play, what they says and do is entirely imagined, and, along with almost everything else, hysterically funny.

Solo performer Phil Tayler, who brings Alex to life with incredible verve and gusto, does the same with the play’s other characters: Alex’s boyfriend, Barry, Streisand herself, James Brolin, and Streisand’s assistant, Sharon. Tayler renders each of these with distinctiveness.

Barry, in particular, is a great, vivid presence throughout, and Tayler manages deftly to convey not only the humor of his ripostes to Alex but also a sense of the subtleties of the relationship between Barry and Alex.

Tayler commands the stage and keeps things rolling for the duration of the full-length show, somewhat longer than ninety minutes, a significant accomplishment.

Bringing the audience to the time before his employment as Barbra’s personal shopkeeper, Alex recalls a recent job at Disneyland, where he reveled in making love on the Matterhorn ride which was especially hot because of its decapitation risk. When, in his job there, dressed in animated character costume, a sassy kid peers into the eyes of his costume and asks Hot enough in there for you, loser? Alex knows it is time to move on.

Phil Tayler as Alex More in 'Buyer and Cellar'

Phil Tayler as Alex More
in “Buyer and Cellar”
Photo: Mark S. Howard
Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

When Alex gets situated in Streisand’s mall and she appears, all sorts of fun emerges. When she starts to act as though she really is out shopping, Alex offers the side impression So Momma wants to play! It’s a simple and obvious line, but funny as hell in context. When she begins to negotiate on the price of an item, Alex again wonders out loud Is she kidding me?. And, again, when she says I found a coupon!, Alex realizes he has entered into a delightfully weird, alternate reality that provides lots of fun. The eighty–five minute ride wasn’t so long, he says, the check engine light not so bright.

Apart from the obvious gags, poignant moments occur, even when the imagined Streisand opens up and declares It’s a terrible thing to be a little girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty.

More poignant are the ups and downs in Alex’s and Barry’s relationship which, though strongly seasoned with sassy give and take, is also fraught with the ordinary challenges of romantic engagement.

Phil Tayler as Alex More in 'Buyer and Cellar'

Phil Tayler as Alex More
in “Buyer and Cellar”
Photo: Mark S. Howard
Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

The play exhibits a wonderful capacity to range from spoofy wackiness to down-to-earth emotionality, making a vivid impression that, whether built on the foundations of realism or fantasy or a little of both, it’s the emotional impact that counts. That’s a great dramatic result for a farcical comedy.

Author Tolins, director O’Connor and actor Tayler have provided a great collaborative accomplishment, with Tayler, an experienced comic actor, giving a memorably funny and compelling performance.

– BADMan

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