Buyer and Cellar
Barrow Street Theatre
It’s safe to assume that this show, a recent hit at the Rattlestick now transferred to Barrow Street, will run for as long as its hardworking star Michael Urie wants to do it. With his startled blue eyes, lanky, elastic frame and frantically ingratiating manner, Urie grabs both the space and our attention from the moment he bounds out from backstage, and he holds that attention all by himself for 95 minutes with no intermission. One of his few props is a book by Barbra Streisand, a coffee-table tome called My Passion for Design, which Urie sharply analyzes before assuring us that what we are about to see is fictional, based on an idea that the show's writer Jonathan Tolins had while reading Streisand’s book. Urie then jumps onto the small, boxy stage and becomes Alex More, a struggling actor who finds himself employed in the mall that Streisand keeps under one of her many homes. It's where she keeps most of her old costumes and many of her acquisitions—like Xanadu, if Charles Foster Kane had been interested in collecting Art Deco furniture and Tiffany lamps. Alex spends most of his day down in this mall all by himself, dusting shoes and whatnot, until one day Streisand herself comes down to do a little shopping role-play with him.
When he plays Streisand, Urie cocks his head, squints his eyes and takes on an old-school Brooklyn voice. (There’s a lot of Jerry Lewis in Streisand’s speaking voice, and Urie really gets that.) Alex charms the diva by inventing an elaborate story about one of the dolls in the mall’s doll shop, a story which sounds very much like one that Streisand herself told in her first TV special My Name Is Barbra. Alex gradually starts to think of Streisand as a friend, and of course thinking like that cannot possibly end well.
Tolins has obviously given Streisand a lot of thought, and he makes her like a seductive witch in a fairy tale, tempting the young actor with her star presence, money and power but giving him nothing. Everything Tolins has Streisand say and do seems like something she might actually say and do; there's never a moment when anything feels off or like he’s overreaching. He’s rather cautious about her, actually, but he’s basically making a kind of theatrical dessert, and it needs to be light and fluffy; if he were too daring, it would collapse and not taste as sweet. Urie has seemingly endless amounts of energy and likability to put over Tolins’s informed musings on Streisand and her perpetual restlessness and dissatisfaction, and his own heartfelt fidgeting is certainly in tune with Tolins’s subject. Buyer and Cellar offers no deep insight into Streisand or anything else, but both the text and Urie himself have genuine charm.