Few of the jokes were lost on the diehard Barbra Streisand fans in the audience at Actors Playhouse this weekend. And if they were, the offenders should have immediately surrendered their gay cards at the door.
The show was the ultimate gay fan homage to Babs, Jonathan Tolins’ one-man comedy, “Buyer & Cellar,” the story of an unemployed actor who finds himself employed as the lone shopkeeper at the vintage shopping mall the actress-slash-director built under her Malibu compound.
While the story comes from the imagination of Tolins, who once met Streisand, the mall is indeed real, inspired by a museum in Delaware, a quaint place to display the thousands of items she has purchased over the years. The mall and the other buildings on the property are beautifully chronicled in Streisand’s 2010 coffee table book, “My Passion for Design.”
Carbonell Award-winner Chris Crawford portrays the actor, Alex More, as well as seven other characters in the fast-paced, 95-minute production in the Coral Gables theater’s intimate upstairs space.
With breakneck speed, Crawford transitions between Alex; his jealous boyfriend Barry; the acerbic house manager Sharon; the current “Mr. Streisand,” actor James Brolin and, of course, Streisand herself.
After days of dusting away the hours downstairs, Alex’s only customer finally makes an appearance to peruse the doll shop. After much haggling over several days, Alex “sells” her an antique French automaton, but that would become just the start of the relationship that eventually sees him “coaching” her for her next film project, Mama Rose in an adaptation of “Gypsy.”
Early on, Alex confesses he is not a “Barbra queen” but acknowledges that such adoration is a part of his gay DNA. This realization comes after he catches a glimpse of the dress the singer wore while performing her classic song, “People.” Alex begins to feel Streisand is a friend, blurring the clear role set forth early by Sharon and eventually alienating Barry.
Crawford is extremely likable and empathetic as Alex and he successfully walks a fine line between comedy and camp. His Barbra is not quite a drag queen—and gay readers will understand what I mean by that statement—but still a humorous caricature that emphasizes the star’s well-known idiosyncrasies.
Under David Arisco’s direction, the gregarious and chatty Alex is constantly on the move, relegating certain characters to different sections of the spare multi-level set by Gene Syffer. Projections taken from Streisand’s book set the scene throughout the play.
The technical demands are few, save for some rapid-fire lighting cues, as Crawford must ultimately sell the play. Judging from the reaction of that Sunday matinee audience, he unquestionably succeeded. Now, where can I find that book by Barbra Streisand?
See Jonathan Tolins’ “Buyer & Cellar” starring Chris Crawford through Aug. 7 at Actor’s Playhouse, 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Performances are Wednesday – Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $53 at ActorsPlayhouse.org.