“Buyer & Cellar” at the Barrow Street Theatre (Closed July 27, 2013)

July 2, 2013 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Starring Michael Urie
Written by Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Reality collides with fantasy in Jonathan Tolins’ new play “Buyer & Cellar” resulting in a near-nuclear reaction of comedy, sentimentality, and sheer brilliance.

Some rich and impressive collaboration has ignited the stage of the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater with the opening of Jonathon Tolins’ new play aptly titled “Buyer and Cellar.” First is the combination of the fascinating, well structured script and the compelling solo performance of Michael Urie. Next is the extremely competent and confident story telling which melds with the variety of characters the actor manages to inhabit during the ninety minute escapade. Finally, the story is simple and enlightening: the characters are clear, intelligent and thoughtful as well as clever and vulnerable. They never appear as a parody or impersonation but are brought to life with subtle physical nuance and enormous emotional content. Michael Urie gives a tour de force performance that is engaging and endearing.

The premise revolves around Alex More, an unemployed LA actor who is hired as the only store clerk for the shopping mall resembling Winterthur, which Barbra Streisand constructed in the basement of the barn on her infamous estate which she paid homage to with a coffee table book entitled “My Passion for Design,” written, photographed and for a price sometimes signed by you know who. This shopping arcade embracing the feel of that historic decorative arts museum in Delaware contains a doll shop, antiques store, gift shoppe, costume and antique clothing store and so on. There are no customers but, if by chance, Barbra is inclined to shop the experience must be real and nothing less than perfect; therefore the need for a store clerk to provide assistance. What transpires throughout the various scenes is a remarkable, almost provoking battle between fact and fiction capturing the audience in a suspension of disbelief.

This is theater in the purest form. The set is a clean low ceiling room clad in neutral tones of grey sparsely furnished with a small end table, simple desk and a single chair all in stark glossy white. At times the walls are covered with projections to suggest a different space but with nothing definitive. There are no set or costume changes (except the removal of a sweater) but through the consummate artistry and technique of Mr. Urie, personalities, objects and places miraculously appear. He floods the stage with colorful images, quirky dialogue infused with vulnerable tension which seeps from the crevices of well defined characters and a joy of life that shouts loud enough to create an emotional tremor. He is nothing less than brilliant. Go spend some time with Alex and Barbra, have some fun and delight in the opportunity to experience an exuberant, skillfully executed performance, attentively directed by Stephen Brackett and supported by a well qualified and competent creative team.