At first glance Out Front Theatre Company’s production of the whimsical comedy “Buyer and Cellar,” running through March 25, would seem a bit preposterous.
You might think, Who would be interested in a one-man show about an out-of-work actor’s obsession with megastar Barbra Streisand? And his strange employment in the basement of her “barn” on her Malibu compound (consisting of five houses, a pond with color-coordinated fish and ducks, and an ocean view to die for)?
Quite a few people, it turns out, including playwright Jonathan Tolins, whose quirky, highly entertaining play enjoyed a long run Off-Broadway, initially starring Michael Urie, of TV’s “Ugly Betty” fame. The show was a sellout while Mr. Urie held forth and has since popped up all over the country.
Out Front, Atlanta’s only self-designated LGBTQIA+ theatre, is having a ball with “Buyer and Cellar” because there are lots of people (especially gay men, it seems) fascinated with all things Barbra. The show also says things about fame, friendship, power, money, and just being human—and says them with delightful tongue-in-cheek.
The play’s sole onstage character is Alex More (usually played by Elliott Folds; played by Assistant Director and Alex understudy Max Mattox the night I saw it). The director is Paul Conroy, Out Front’s founder and artistic director.
Alex is a struggling Los Angeles actor who’s been fired from being the mayor of Toontown at Disneyland. He has a screenwriter boyfriend named Barry who doesn’t hesitate to voice his views on Alex, Ms. Streisand, or anything else (again, all parts are played or voiced by Mr. Mattox). Alex hears of a job opening through a mysterious contact, and lo and behold, it is employment in the superstar’s Main Street.
Main Street? It’s like this: Barbra wrote a huge coffee-table book in 2010 called “My Passion for Design,” which chronicles the painstaking creation and construction of her Malibu Shangri-la. Main Street is a basement avenue of storefronts: a gift shop, doll shop, antiques emporium, vintage clothing boutique—all built to house the star’s memorabilia.
All this undoubtedly sounds a bit wacky, certainly a target for satire; but for several years there was a real shop in San Francisco’s Castro district called “Hello, Gorgeous!” which sold Barbra memorabilia. Ms. Streisand herself had no connection to it. But who knows? It may have given her an idea.
But the heart and soul of the show is Alex. As played by Mr. Mattox, he’s extremely likable and funny and occasionally quite moving. His energy and magnetism keep the 90-minute show rocking.
And guess what—you don’t have to be a Streisand fan to enjoy this breezy, light entertainment. I won’t fib—it helps. But as Alex begins to have conversations with the lady of the house herself, the show’s humanity takes over. Mr. Mattox also voices Ms. Streisand (not singing) and adds gentle, telling gestures, and we are charmed. That famous “willing suspension of disbelief” that makes theatre work takes over.
A particularly amusing segment is when the star decides she’d like to buy an item that Alex is tending (even though she already owns it), and we see that the haggling instincts of her Brooklyn girlhood have not left her. This is hilarious; the fact that’s it’s absurd makes it even more so.
And once she feels she knows Alex (sort of), we hear this very wealthy, famous, admired woman softly tell him that she has never felt pretty; her own father died when she was a baby; her mother was not a warm, encouraging person.
I think my only complaint is that in the brief moments we hear the real Streisand singing, at the peak of her form, the sound could be louder. After all, it’s her voice that makes her superhuman and causes goose bumps. But then we’re back to her humanity and the isolation that uber-fame brings.
“Buyer and Celler” is a unique, delightful evening. Bravo to Mr. Mattox and director Conroy. I may return just to see Elliot Folds’ Alex; you see, I am a Barbra fan from way back.
For tickets and information, visit outfronttheatre.com.