By Keri Tombazian
The Mark Taper Forum is doing Los Angeles proud. Its 47th Season boasts four absolute gems to date. On the heels of the suspense filled, “Last Confession,” comes the funniest night of theater I have experienced in, no lie, a decade.
My husband Thom and I were swept up in the opening night buzz of the Taper courtyard, as the sell-out crowd gathered to welcome the longest running Off-Broadway comedy to Los Angeles. Jonathan Tolins’ “Buyer and Cellar” has its delicious beginnings in the true-life basement of one, Barbra Streisand. In her self penned, “My Passion For Design” (2010), Barbra chronicles, in word and photograph, every detail of the dream estate she created in Malibu, California, including an underground shopping street of stores.
To ward off any “litigious” action by Ms. Streisand, Alex Moore (Michael Urie), begins his story with a clever disclaimer explaining that beyond the existence of Barbra’s odd underground Main Street, USA, everything else is the fictitious musing of the playwright (Jonathin Tolins). Yet, so intimate and authentic is the relationship between Alex and Barbra, at the end of this nearly two-hour, one-man tour de force, it seems impossible to be anything less than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.
Alex is a down-on-his-luck actor who finds himself in the employ of Barbra Streisand, running her underground mall and amusing her on her visits down to the “Cellar” of shops. He quickly becomes her confidant and, in a hoot of a turn, her acting coach. In his portrayal of Babs, Urie walks an exquisite line between homage and parody. He reveals her complexities, eccentricities, and ultimately, a peek at her heart. Note to Barbra – it’s a love letter, not a dig.
Urie’s superhuman romp through the dense total of Tolin’s hilarious (and I do mean side splitting) dialogue confounds previous notions of stamina. In this, his Julliard pedigree is on display. Uri is charming, affable, and funny as all get out. Director Stephen Brackett keeps the pace zippy, while still giving full measure to each character’s voice.
Though lovely in concept, Andrew Boyce’s minimalist scenic design could have afforded just a detail or two more to enliven the stage and imagination. Lending the only color to the otherwise white environment, Alex Koch’s video projection design also seemed to err on the side of spare. Jessica Pabst’s apt costume needed fitting.
Named the Best Unique Theatrical Experience by the Off-Broadway Alliance, “Buyer and Cellar” is indeed, best, unique, and one joyride of an experience. See it before it gets away.
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