By Dee Jae Cox
It’s rare that I leave a theater with a sense of neutrality about a show. I usually love it or hate it, but seldom am I on the fence. And that is why Coyote Stageworks production of Jonathan Tolins’ comedy, “Buyer & Cellar” is a unique viewing. I wanted to like it, I almost did, the premise of an out of work actor taking a job as the lone salesperson in Barbra Streisand’s ‘cellar’, which has been converted to a shopping mall to store all of the possessions that most would put in a PS storage, is a very creative and comic idea.
It’s a fictional piece and the writer felt the need to break the 4th wall and convey that important information as if it was very vital that we knew this show was not based on a real life incident. Theatre is fantasy, regardless of whether it is based on fact or fiction; I have never felt the need for the actors to clarify that at the top of the show.
While it is true, that Barbra Streisand actually converted the space below an old barn on her Malibu property into a subterranean mall.
We’re told in the play “Barbra’s basement is just like any other mall, except for the total lack of customers or employees.” Of course the part of the story that is purely fiction is the solitary salesperson that toils away dusting and arranging every day just waiting for their lone customer to appear. It’s a story of obvious admiration for the iconic Ms. Streisand, poking fun with love and a sense of devotion.
Emerson Collins portrays Alex More, in this one-person show and he is truly adorable. He’s witty, personable and very engaging. I liked Alex. It’s when he went off into the antagonistic voice of ‘boyfriend’ Barry that I was unnerved. Hated the ‘Barry Voice’. It was curiously entertaining to watch the relationship develop between Alex and Barbra, a young actor finding his career path and an older actress who was at the top of the mountain. Collins ability to transform into Barbara for the dialogues with himself, was very funny and performed with obvious skill. He made me laugh and truly enjoy that fictional relationship.
It takes a lot of talent to fill a 600-seat theatre. And while the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center is an incredibly beautiful space, you pretty much have to be named Lily Tomlin, in order to pull off a one person show in a theatre space that size. Josh Clabaugh’s set design helped, it was simple but elegant. Loved the backdrop projections changing time and location.
Phil Murphy’s lights were seamless as the scenes and locations changed and set a perfect mood for each scene. But this production of Buyer & Cellar would have been much better served in an intimate showcase. Since so much effort was made to engage the audience, it was lost with a solitary figure on stage performing to a half empty theatre. There was not enough show to fill that space.
Buyer & Cellar is a show that could be enjoyed by all ages, but I don’t see it being of much interest to children or young teens.
While it does seem that at least a minority of the shows produced by Coyote Stageworks were written by women, I can only give this theatre company 2 stars for my ‘gender equity stars on Broadway.’ It does not appear that they’ve ever actually hired a woman to direct a show and Moira Wilke, the Assistant Stage Manager, was the only woman listed as crew on this production of ‘Buyer & Cellar’.
“Buyer & Cellar”, is being performed through April 5th, at the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center, at the Rancho Mirage High School, 31001 Rattler Road (between Davall and Bob Hope), Rancho Mirage, CA 92270.
For Tickets call; (760) 318-0024. Or visit www.coyotestageworks.org
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of KPTR 1450’s hit radio show, “California Woman 411” in Palm Springs.