Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 20, 2016

Buyer & Cellar

Theaterworks, Hartford, CT 
through February 14, 2016
by R.E. Smith

“Buyer & Cellar” is a very made up story inspired by facts so “preposterous,” that they could only be true. The “Buyer” in this case is Barbra Streisand; the “Cellar” is the basement of her palatial Malibu estate, which she has made into a museum that mimics an old fashion Main Street USA, complete with storefronts and a staff of one.

Tom Lenk as Alex More
A one-person show is only as good as the performer, and Tom Lenk is outstanding. An actor of stages and screens big and small, he brings a comfortable familiarity to Alex More, an out of work actor who has lucked into what seems to be the best job ever. The audience invests their trust in him immediately. He brings to life over a half dozen characters, each with distinct voice and physicality. Lenk’s facial expressions are especially fluid, and just a simple change to the set of his eyes was enough to indicate a character change.

The TheaterWorks venue is the perfect setting for this basement-based tale. The set is simple, the props are minimal, and any more would just distract from the intimacy. There is one notable exception: Streisand’s actual coffee table book, “My Passion for Design,” the inspiration for the play, has a large role, serving as the footnote source for some of the “strange but true” details.

Director Rob Ruggiero uses all of Lenk’s skills to the fullest. The pace never drags when Lenk is portraying Alex and others, so whenever “Barbra” enters the room, there is an almost palpable sense that the very walls are holding their breath in "her" presence.

Playwright (and Connecticut resident) Jonathan Tolins has crafted a well-balanced story, amusing, charming, and totally believable despite the out of the ordinary premise. There is amateur psychology, meditations on success, and dissertations on loneliness, but all with a solid underpinning of laugh out loud humor and lightness of spirit.

One person leaving the show was heard to remark, “I wonder how long he (Alex) worked for her?” This suspension of disbelief is the true mark of all elements working in harmony to get the audience invested in the story. Barbra fans will find it a love letter, non-fans will find it very funny, and both will enjoy “Buyer & Cellar” immensely.