Imagine that you had the chance to spend time with a star that you idolized. What would this person really be like? Portland Stage’s Dustin Tucker delivers a hilarious take on this concept as Alex More, a struggling actor hired to run Barbra Streisand’s basement mall in Jonathan Tolins’ “Buyer & Cellar.”
The one-man production, directed by Kate Galvin, is a playful romp through Tolins’ imagination, supposedly sparked by the playwright’s missed opportunity to share a Kit Kat with Babs backstage. As Tucker tells the audience at the start of the play, it’s a work of fiction, with the exception of one fact: Barbra Streisand does have a mall in the basement of her Malibu, California, home, featured on page 190 of her 2010 book, “My Passion for Design.”
“Buyer & Cellar” is a perfectly timed stand-up comedy-like routine, with Tucker delivering laugh-out-loud commentary as he reenacts a series of events and conversations, as if telling the tale to a room full of his closest friends.
With a conspiratorial smirk, he lets the audience in on the joke, masterfully looping back to off-handed comments left earlier like comic time bombs, pausing just long enough to let the joke sink in and explode with laughter.
Dressed in Alex’s “off-rack Banana Republic” clothes designed by Kathleen P. Brown, Tucker brings to life not only Alex, but also slips into a variety of other personalities, including the iconic Streisand, James Brolin and Alex’s jealous Jewish boyfriend, Barry. His demeanor, posture, attitude and voice change as he brings out the quirks of each character, real and fictional, often playing two parts in the same conversation. Tucker doesn’t change clothes, using only a scarf that doubles as a shawl to aid in the transformation.
Tucker is off-the-wall fun as Barry, barely stopping for a breath as his easily agitated character rants about Streisand and what he perceives as her attempts to manipulate Alex.
Tolins’ script is sharp-witted, capitalizing on the public’s perception of Streisand. The audience roared with laughter opening night as Tucker’s Streisand haggled over the price of a doll, ultimately winning by producing a dot matrix coupon that offered the exact amount needed to discount the cost down to her desired price.
The playwright also delights in poking fun at himself in the script, writing in asides about his artistic reasoning. Tucker delivers the lines with an all-knowing gaiety, playfully mocking while divulging Tolins’ “secrets.”
Set designer Meg Anderson has crafted a seemingly simple set that, like Tucker, is full of surprises. The all-white shop facades are lettered in black, hinting what lies behind: Dress Shop, Bee’s Doll Shop and the Gift Shoppe that Tucker jokes, “sells extra letter Es and Ps.” With the push of a panel or the unlatching of a hidden door, the set erupts in color, revealing, among other things, a sweets shop, realizing the wonders that Tucker’s Alex describes upon first seeing the mall.
“I was in another world,” Alex marvels, “like when Dorothy stepped from sepia tone into color.”
“Buyer & Cellar” is 90 minutes of pure, uninterrupted entertainment that flies by with Tucker at the helm. The play offers a humorous look into the lives of the rich and famous, creating an imaginative world that’s paved with laughter and lit-up with sizzling rays of sarcasm.
April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at: