2nd Story – Buyer & Cellar
“Buyer & Cellar” is the most unique theater experience you’ll encounter this season.By Kathie Raleigh, Woonsocket Call
It would be hard to invent a more unlikely premise for a play than the one for “Buyer & Cellar” – except, it’s true.
The play, now in the DownStage space at 2nd Story Theatre, takes place in the underground shopping mall Barbra Streisand built below her Malibu estate. Really.
A notorious collector, the star needed a place to store all her stuff and created a mall of specialty shops, just for herself. She wrote about it in her book, “My Passion for Design,” so that part is documented.
The play, however, is all fiction. It’s also hilarious, surprisingly insightful, and engrossing, thanks to a fabulous, single-handed performance by Kevin Broccoli and pinpoint direction by Lara Hakeem.
Broccoli plays Alex More, an aspiring actor fired from a less-than-inspiring job as a Disneyland character. He’s at a low point when his agent calls with a job opportunity — which turns out to be acting as a clerk in Barbra’s mall.
Broccoli/More becomes a storyteller, speaking to the audience and doing different voices for other characters, including his boyfriend, Barbra herself, and even James Brolin. These are not impersonations; the delivery is like what you’d hear on an audio book – except this is theater and there are visuals.
Pacing the stage, slouching in a chair or gesturing in thin air, Broccoli takes us through More’s initial uncertainty as he drives his dirty, beat-up Jetta onto the manicured estate of his yet unnamed employer, meets the dispassionate assistant who explains the job – and reacts with wild incredulity when he realizes whom he will be working for.
Although he admits he never was that big of a Streisand fan, he appreciates that as a gay man, the diva is “part of my birthright, my heritage.” He can’t believe his luck.
The excitement wears off quickly, however, during hours alone in the artificial world of the cellar mall – until the inevitable happens: Streisand herself comes to “shop.” What happens from there is the product of playwright Jonathan Tolins’ creative imagination, and it’s both laugh-out-loud funny and quietly thoughtful.
Broccoli’s performance is amazing, from the basics of keeping all the voices straight to making the most of the funny lines. Along the way, he imbues his storytelling with exactly the right emotions: his own insecurity, the eye-rolling sarcasm of his boyfriend who just might be jealous, to heartfelt empathy for his famous employer.
Broccoli keeps us entertained from the moment he steps on stage, and credit should be shared with Hakeem, the 2nd Story actor making her directing debut. She wowed us during the summer with her vivid performance in “Venus in Fur,” and now she takes a step back and gets the same in-depth performance from another actor.
Unobtrusively complementing the actor’s and director’s work is Max Ponticelli’s minimalist set, which is, almost literally, a blank canvas for our imaginations, and a few video images, to decorate.
All told, “Buyer & Cellar” is the most unique theater experience you’ll encounter this season. 2nd Story’s DownStage is one “cellar” you absolutely must visit.