Andrew Newton Schaftlein. Photo: Pandora Productions
Buyer & Cellar
By Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Michael J. Drury
A review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved
So, who DOESN’T like Barbra? Or Babs? Or Sadie? Yes, THAT Barbra. The one, the only Barbra Streisand. Okay, okay, I know that she isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you’ve got to admit, she’s had a storied career and even more fabled life.
While I could go deep into her life from Brooklyn to the pristine coast of Malibu, I’ll save that for another occasion. Suffice it to say that I am familiar with Babs’ line of work. Like director Michael J. Drury, who shared with the audience that he owned all of her vinyl albums, I had my fair share of vinyl, cassette, and CDs. I would be caught warming up my voice singing along to her golden sound back in college and then quickly admonished for doing so. See, she’s polarizing to some.
I mentioned a fabled life. As we all know, fables are stores, often including animals, that relay a moral or lesson. While Ms. Streisand’s life, with regard to Jonathan Tolins’ Buyer & Cellar, doesn’t have cute, cartoonish animals to tell its tale with, it does, however, lend itself to truths and make-believe.
With a sparsely furnished set accentuated by a chaise and stool, the floor adorned with a lovely soft striped rug and the walls hung with three panels that video images are intermittently projected on, Alex More (Andrew Newton Schaftlein) sets the scene by sharing where he came from and where he is going.
Alex is a former “Mayor of Toon Town” actor at Disneyland who had a misunderstanding with a customer and is let go. When an agent whom Alex had a brief encounter with offers a potential new job, the out of work actor is intrigued, especially when the client is referred to as well known.
As Alex makes his way to the residence of the client he is greeted at the door by Sharon, an uptight and seemingly no-nonsense kind of gal, who runs the affairs of the house. She briefly interviews the actor and offers him the job, but only after some stern warnings about what the responsibilities are and for whom he will be working. So, what is Alex’s new role? He is responsible for the upkeep of Barbra’s private shopping mall.
In 2010 Sadie wrote a book entitled My Passion for Design. One of its most interesting revelations was that at Ms. Streisand’s Malibu home, she has a fully functional shopping mall that contains her own possessions with shops that include dolls and sweets
As Alex takes on his new role, he sees that his time in the subterranean Earth, is lonely, at best, with only the whirring of a frozen yogurt or popcorn maker keeping him company. After some time, THE client comes in and a cordial exchange is made. Over time and a few more visits, Babs becomes more comfortable with Alex and him with her.
It doesn’t take long before the chanteuse asks that Alex spend more time around the shops and even asks for him to man the Sweet Shoppe for a party, where he had the opportunity to meet James Brolin, Barbra’s husband.
Alex’s boyfriend Barry, an out of work Brooklyn-born playwright, is upset with how close Alex is getting with Ms. Streisand, especially since he knows all about her eccentricities, escapades, and lovers. He feels that Alex is being used.
In true Upstairs, Downstairs fashion, Alex has not been invited to see the upstairs or the main house, until one day after he had been coaching her for a revival of Gypsy, Barbra lets her guard down and invites Alex to take a look.
The play certainly does take a look at the pitfalls of being a celebrity. Some are engaging while others can be aloof. Some are frugal while others are extravagant. Some have lots of friends, some have few or none. Such is the life for this version of Barbra. Perhaps there is some truth in the writing, perhaps it is all fictional, but it does give one a chance to take a peek into what could be another person’s hell.
What I truly enjoyed about this piece was Mr. Schaftlein’s multiple portrayals. This is a one-man show, and he portrays all of the characters. Not all were pitch-perfect. Barry’s heavy Brooklyn accent would lose its luster at times, as did Ms. Streisand’s. But his mannerisms were pretty solid.
There are a lot of hidden and noticeable gems throughout this piece that lovers and naysayers of Streisand can recognize, just because of her legacy: song lyrics, lines from movies, pop culture references.
My deep appreciation to Michael Drury and his production team for being courageous and bringing “live” theater back into our lives. The production certainly does not have a movie or television show feel, but a taped presentation of a live performance.
Pandora Productions already thinks outside of the box, and I look forward to what the future will bring to my computer screen until we can sit in the Henry Clay Theatre once more.
Buyer & Cellar
Available On Demand November 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, & 22
P O Box 4185
Louisville, Kentucky 40204
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.