By day, 43-year-old Matt Buffalo is a theater instructor at Miami’s New World School for the Arts. But, beginning next weekend, the Off-Broadway veteran will offer a first-hand lesson in acting at Island City Stage in Wilton Manors.
Buffalo is starring in Jonathan Tolins’ hit one-man comedy, “Buyer & Cellar,” the story of a young out-of-work actor who lands a job managing the miniature shopping mall built below Barbra Streisand’s Malibu compound.
“I was living in New York when it was on Broadway. I wanted to see it and was never able. It closed before I was able to see it. I knew it was about Barbra Streisand’s basement and Michael Urie was in it and I should see it because it was a show I might be able to do in the future,” Buffalo recalled.
The actor got his chance, thanks to Island City Stage’s artistic director Andy Rogow, who noted Buffalo was “absolutely perfect” for the part during an event earlier this year announcing the company’s upcoming season.
“I really feel like I am the lead character, Alex Moore. I’ve always loved Barbara Streisand and her music. I had a great appreciation, but I was never a ‘Barbra queen.’ In doing the research and re-watching her movies and concerts and the way she speaks and her interviews, my appreciation has grown and I’m probably now a Barbra queen. The depth and precision and heart that she puts into everything is mind-boggling,” Buffalo said.
Throughout the 90-minute show, Buffalo must perform six characters, including Streisand.
He explained, “She’s the hardest one for me. She’s an icon and people have definite thoughts and opinions about how she should be portrayed. Again, because I’m not becoming her, that relieves me of those expectation. The challenge is not to become a caricature and find the real person, the truth of what she wants. It’s definitely not a comic role, but the challenge is always to let their truth be told and then let the audience take it from there.”
The biggest challenge for Buffalo is changing characters instantly, but he’s aided, he says, by Tolins’ well-written dialogue.
“It’s still a challenge because you have to know what your focus is and then respond as a different character in the next second,” he said. “It’s like splitting your brain down the middle.”
Buffalo is most comfortable when he addresses the audience, breaking that “fourth wall” of traditional theater.
“They [the audience] are another character in the play. They don’t respond back to me, but they’re my friends who I’m sharing the story with throughout the show. They go along the journey with Alex Moore,” Buffalo noted. “He’s trying to find his place in the world and hopefully the audience will recognize the growth in him in the play.”
Matt Buffalo stars in Island City Stage’s production of Jonathan Tollins’ comedy “Buyer & Cellar,” Nov. 1 – Dec. 2 at Wilton Theater Factory, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.