Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Buyer & Cellar
Lyric Stage Company
Review by Nancy Grossman

Also see Nancy's review of The Snow Queen


Phil Tayler
Photo by Mark S. Howard
Firstly, give credit to playwright Jonathan Tolins for having a fertile imagination. Inspired by Barbra Streisand's 2010 coffee table book, "My Passion for Design: A Private Tour," wondering what it would be like to work for her and get to know her, Tolins created a character who would be the sole employee of La Streisand's private shopping mall in the basement of her palatial Malibu estate. The Lyric Stage Company presents the New England premiere of Buyer & Cellar, the Off-Broadway hit which ran for over 450 performances in 2013-2014, opening a door into the subterranean, magical world of Streisand's collections of dolls, vintage clothing, antiques, and gifts.

The one-man, one-act comedy eschews the fourth wall as Alex More, an out-of-work L.A. actor, takes the audience into his confidence to tell his story of getting hired as Streisand's singular staffer. Although he is not an ardent fan (an oddity for a gay man), Alex harbors a desire to bond with "the lady of the house" and they do form an unlikely friendship during his employ. However, even as she reveals snippets of her private persona and psyche, Alex gains insight into his own foibles and proclivities and learns important life lessons.

Phil Tayler is the one man who commands the stage and holds us rapt for 100 minutes, even when the material flags a bit in the late going. Tayler's work is well known at the Lyric (this is his 10th anniversary production), but Buyer & Cellar is a huge challenge, requiring the actor to convey several characters while alone on the stage, relying on himself to be his own scene partner. As Alex converses with Barbra, her imperious house manager Sharon, or his effeminate boyfriend Barry, it gets a little schizophrenic at times, but Tayler seamlessly shape shifts and alters his speech pattern to clearly differentiate the two people in the scene. He doesn't "do" Barbra, per se, but Tayler lets us feel how Alex experiences her—by her body language and mannerisms, as well as by Alex's facial expressions registering delight, boredom, excitement, rapture, resignation and many more.

Despite the fact that the play could use a little trimming, the conceit only slightly overstays its welcome and, on the whole, Tolins' writing is funny and clever and tells the story well. Tayler's energy and charisma remain high-level throughout, and Courtney O'Connor's direction sets the tone and pace. Her blocking has Tayler constantly moving around the stage, making eye contact with all three sections of the audience, and rearranging furniture to indicate location changes. Lighting designer Chris Brusberg indicates Barbra's "arrival" into the room by the beam of a spotlight, and helps distinguish the settings by brightness in the mall and warmer, lower lighting in the residences. The scenic design by Anthony R. Phelps is simple and tasteful: white-on-pale yellow walls with a chair rail, a room divider with stately columns, tile flooring, teakwood chairs with linen cushions, and a drink trolley. Tayler's outfit of magenta shirt, fashionably-worn blue jeans, and grey desert boots is pulled together by costume designer Rafael Jaen, and sound designer David Remedios gives us just a taste of the diva's voice at the top of the play and perfectly synched doorbells whenever she visits the mall.

A solo show is a lonely endeavor, but Buyer & Cellar is clearly a team effort with the tandem of O'Connor and Tayler. His may be the only name on the cast list, but he never seems to be the only person on the stage. Their appearances are brief, but we also get sightings of Bea Arthur, Oprah, Arthur Laurents and James Brolin, in addition to Barbra, Sharon, Barry and Alex. In his prologue, Alex explains that he is an actor and none of this is real (except for the existence of the shopping mall), but that doesn't stop the audience from buying what he is selling.

Buyer & Cellar, performances through January 3, 2016, at Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com.

Written by Jonathan Tolins, Directed by Courtney O'Connor; Scenic Design, Anthony R. Phelps; Costume Design, Rafael Jaen; Lighting Design, Chris Brusberg; Sound David Remedios; Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell; Assistant Stage Manager, Bridget Anderson

Featuring: Phil Tayler


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