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Streisand’s Xanadu and Majordomo: Yenta

Ed Rampell: What does appear to be accurate is that in the voluminous basement of actress/singer Barbra Streisand’s Malibu grande maison is a mini-mall of sorts where this world class diva and shopper schleps her possessions to.
buyer and cellar

Jai Rodriguez in Buyer & Cellar (Photos by Sasha A. Venola)

BUYER & CELLAR Theater Review

Jonathan Tolins’ Buyer & Cellar is one of those clever concoctions where it’s hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins - while permitting presumably unauthorized referencing of a major superstar. When Jai Rodriquez enters the actor makes it clear (wink! wink!) that this isn’t a true story - although parts of it may be.

What does appear to be accurate is that in the voluminous basement of actress/singer Barbra Streisand’s Malibu grande maison is a mini-mall of sorts where this world class diva and shopper schleps her possessions to.

What does appear to be accurate is that in the voluminous basement of actress/singer Barbra Streisand’s Malibu grande maison is a mini-mall of sorts where this world class diva and shopper schleps her possessions to. Since her precious wardrobe apparel, jewelry, artwork, various tchotchkes - not to mention a frozen yogurt machine - are so abundant and valuable these world class belongings are not stored per se, but rather displayed in the eponymous cellar of her chateau (presumably near Malibu Barbie). The playwright appears to have built his entire one-man show based on this premise, which Streisand herself documented in an actual 2010 vanity illustrated (with mostly her own photos, but of course) coffee table type book, the self-promoting My Passion for Design.

The gifted Rodriguez - whose credits include Broadway shows such as Rent and The Producers and on TV, Bravo’s Queer Eye and, ironically, the ABC sitcom Malibu Country - primarily plays Alex More, an unemployed actor recently fired from playing a Disneyland character so he’s currently “in between gigs.” That is, until he lands the job as the “shopkeeper” for Babs’ mini-mall. But the shapeshifting, always engaging Rodriguez also skillfully depicts Buyer’s other characters, including his boyfriend, the Malibu estate’s overseer, hubby James Brolin and La Streisand herself.

Over the course of this 90-ish minute one act, one actor-play the relationships between Barbra and Alex - who is no mall rat - evolves. The mistress of the mall is depicted as being alternately stand-offish, capricious, imperious, vulnerable, charming, quirky and sweet. I found Barbra’s musings on Brooklyn to be fascinating as I had never realized what she had to say about my birthplace at all and how my being born in that borough may have influenced the course of my own life.

There is also the “lonely at the top” cliché and Barbra’s longing to be conventionally pretty, which we’ve all heard a million times. At one point, Alex More - who claims to be a direct descendant of Sir Thomas More - asks Streisand about what her conception would be of Utopia - a word coined by Alex’s alleged ancestor in his famous 1516 literary depiction of a perfect society.

Buyer & Cellar acknowledges, but does not dwell, on how well-informed Streisand is about current affairs and her support of liberal candidates and issues. For instance, during the play California’s (now outgoing) U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer is a guest at a party upstairs in the Big House (where it is forbidden for most of the play for Alex to go, as he’s generally relegated to the basement emporium and merely serves frozen yogurt in the basement during the gala gathering with Boxer). And of course, Streisand just participated in the Oct. 17th Broadway fundraiser for presidential moneygrubber Hillary Clinton. But while this play indicates the enormously wealthy performer can be quite generous, it doesn’t mention that much to her credit, Streisand has been an enormously bighearted philanthropist, donating more than $20 million to various worthy causes (according to research I did for my 2005 book Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States, which Barbra is on the cover of).

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buyer and cellar

Adam Flemming’s able scenic and projection designs, which includes oversized eyes on the wall behind the set gazing at the audience (no, it’s not the NSA watching who’s attending this play dealing with one of Hollywood’s best known liberals - its raison d’etre all comes together in the final, imaginatively rendered scene), serves the story well, along with some help from lighting designer Nick McCord. There are just enough props and décor to perpetuate the play’s central conceit - the illusion of Babs’ mini-mall, where most of the action transpires - and not enough to dispel them.

The formidable Rodriquez and the mise-en-scene are well-directed by Dimitri Toscas who recently helmed playwright Mark St. Germain’s Scott and Hem, another show at the Falcon about luminaries (authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway).

Buyer is a bit of a tell-all - Alex More (and perhaps dramatist Tolins) could be called “Yenta,” instead of Yentl, as the somewhat reclusive star’s private life is pried into for public consumption, presumably without her consent or receiving royalties for the use of her likeness, etc. Buyer & Cellar contends that Alex gives Streisand the notion to star as Momma Rose (the role Rosalind Russell played in the 1962 movie musical) in a motion picture revival of Gypsy (which the superstar is supposedly still pursuing). To do so, Rodriguez’s Babs contacts bookwriter Arthur - “Laurents, not Miller,” as he quips. (To be more culturally sensitive, perhaps from now on productions of this work should be re-titled “Roma”?)

Perhaps unintentionally, Buyer offers an eye opening glimpse into this superstar’s supposed lavish, self-indulgent lifestyle. If La Streisand really wants to be charitable and do good in the world, she should do the right thing: Sell off all of those expensive tchotchkes in her posh digs and give the proceeds to the truly needy, the poor and worthy causes like Black Lives Matter, 350.org and so on. Then, turn your empty mini-mall into shelters for the homeless and refugees. I’ll bet if you do this Babs, you’ll feel much better about yourself and life than if some fairy godmother somehow made you “pretty.” After all, as somebody once sang: “People, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Now that would truly be Utopia!

Nobody deserves to live so high off the hog like you do - with your own private mall!!! - when there are so many suffering people in the world, and you can do something to alleviate the suffering of many. But it’s highly unlikely that this charter member of the bourgeoisie will ever do this - because, you know, Streisand’s a liberal, and not a radical, and like all rich people she’s simply selfishly following her own class (or lack of) interests. Let them eat frozen yogurt!

See photos of Streisand’s mini-mall here.

Ed Rampell

Buyer & Cellar is being performed Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and on Sundays at 4:00 p.m. through Nov. 6 at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank, CA 91505. For more info: (818)955-8101; www.FalconTheatre.com.

Ed Rampell