Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Buyer-&-Cellar riffs on ex-babe Babs
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : In 2010 Barbra Streisand produced a gratuitous coffee table picture book of her stash of dolls, antiques, dresses & such she'd been collecting for nigh unto 50 years since superstardom almost instantly rained down on her when she was but a Brooklyn hotshot @ 18. Some called her homely with a big nose. Others were more kind : "unconventional beauty" they chirped. She titled her weighty tome & memorabilia photo essay "My Passion for Design" ($58.53 /
Barbra Streisand with either a real or stuffed dog from her Malibu museum basement hideaway that is the basis of the whimsical fantasy play Buyer & Cellar.
Promotional book cover photo courtesy of website

How to take Barbie dolls and antiques and dresses and morph them all into a one-man show. That would be a challenge, no question. But playwright Jonathan Tolins did just that. From the book he learned of an underground menagerie of shops and showplaces  and mini-museums Streisand and husband James Brolin built in their Malibu basement to display all these treasures and tchotchkes. A mini-mall sans shoppers. A Potemkin ersatz New England village square built at the foot of a spiral staircase away from the light of day.

From this squib of info Tolins conjured his play's central conceit : that Princess Babs' subterranean collection required a shepherd and guardian angel. Enter Alex Moore (Ryan Mooney). As it's a one-actor show, Mooney does a bunch of roles -- not only Alex, he also channels Babs herself. Then there's his scriptwriter boyfriend Barry who used to worship and consecrate all things Barbra. But now is sick unto death of her once he concludes she's but a spoilt-rich-bitch whose kvetches about an unloving mom and step-dad are wearying stories too long whined about. Horn-rim glasses on, it's Barry, off, Alex. Such is the design at least.

Ryan Mooney plays custodian / curator / cashier at an imagined remake of diva Barbra Streisand's subterranean hand-built village museum of gewgaws at her Malibu home.
Photo credit Allyson Fournier

How & what the show brings to the stage :  When it opened in 2013 even the venerable New York Times critic Ben Brantley was smitten. "I would even go so far as to say that it is just about as profound as seemingly light entertainment can be."  This in a piece in which the solitary actor must constantly flip voice, inflection, eyes, & facial contortions to mimic the unseen character he's talking to or about or quoting. And do so in a way that we may think there's something more than a Barbie doll character at play here, that she and her singular "dream refuge" might have a cubic inch of reality to it.  Or that boyfriend Barry is more than just an angry spiteful voice on a cellphone.  

The envelope, please :  Bad timing can be fatal to the performing arts. When Fighting Chance Productions elected in late 2016 or early 2017 to do this script in 2018, only diehard Oscar junkies would even know the name Harvey Weinstein. Hashtag #MeToo hadn't yet been dreamt up or hit 1,000's of times. Nor had the horrific interface brush fires of early summer scorched the earth and destroyed countless homes in the area. Then the Malibu mayhem that followed just six months later from cascading mudslides. Together all this apocalyptic havoc wrought no end of death, injury and heartbreak not to mention the multi-millions of dollars in property damage and carnage.

No question, then, as matters stand the very mention of Hollywood induces bile reflux in many people who until last year were still fond of the place and what they grew up thinking it stood for. In others just outright and somewhat awestruck sadness. Hollywood. The grown-ups' play place akin to Fanatasyland for kids. Fittingly, then, when Alex is fired from Disneyland's Toontown thanks to an irate family whose younster he had verbally abused, he laments : "I forgot that I was working in an artificial environment -- that won't happen again," he states in vintage naif mode. He's learned zilch. 

And if all this were not problematic enough for the FCP theatre troupe, fact is one of the key backdrop songs they use is the Streisand / Gibb duet "Guilty" that was released in 1980. At the final preview show I saw last night, the crowd was mostly too young or too old to know or remember that pop chart. Or for that matter have given much thought whatever to Ms. Streisand as some kind of icon or ageless princess, she now mid-way through her 8th decade of life. 

Who gonna like : This script is a la David Sedaris, he of Santaland Diaries pedigree. There are some funny riffs, no question : Alex. "Style. Where does that come from? God?  Barbra. No, or Israeli's would be better dressers." Remarking on Barbra's serial lovers over the decades, Alex rhymes off an anecdote familiar to us Boomers who were "witness" : "She shtupped Pierre Trudeau and almost became the First Lady of Canada!" 

This is a play Vancouver actors, particularly the up-&-comers, will surely appreciate. One-hand shows are tough to do. The timing. The variable characterizing line-on-line. The all-important stage business (like the character Barry's horn-rim glasses schtick -- arhythmic last night -- no doubt this choice bit will improve as the week progresses). 

For keen live theatre goers like the local acting cohort I may not be quite so robust as Ben Brantley in my praise. Still I know they'll find both delight and divertissement -- and, importantly, will learn a lot, too -- from all the silliness so eagerly set forth here. 

Particulars :  Written by Jonathan Tolins. Produced by Fighting Chance Productions.  At PAL Theatre stage, Cardero @ Georgia.  Run-time 90 minutes, no intermission. On through Saturday, February 10th, 8 pm nightly, additional matinee cum talkback Saturday, 2 p.m., signing provided for deaf patrons Saturday night. Tickets through the theatre company's website,  

Production crew : Chris D. King, Director.  Andie Lloyd, Lighting Designer.  Angela Steidel, Stage Manager.

Performer : Ryan Mooney.


No comments:

Post a Comment