A Most Privileged Buyer (in a Cellar)

Indefatigable. The word has fallen into disuse, probably because it’s unpronounceable. So let’s find another one. Like scintillating. My companion kept repeating it last Saturday: scintillating.

We were trying to describe the one-man, one-act, 75-minute play from Brave New Productions, by Jonathan Tolins, featuring Donald Rees declaiming like a gay Robin Williams. (You know that manic stream-of-consciousness that takes off in directions you never expect?)

Rees is amazing. He barely stumbles in this fast-paced monologue with references to movies, music, Broadway, cultural oddities like the 405 (Los Angeles freeway) . . . and Streisand. Ultimately, this is a play about Barbra Streisand, and the fascination she exerts on the gay world.

Latching on to a few factoids— Streisand’s palatial L.A. home, her book (My Passion for Design) and the oddity of her shopping centre in her own basement— Tolins creates a fantasy about an out-of-work actor who is hired to staff this private shopping mall. In the process, he gets to ‘act’ like a shopkeeper, and to meet Barbra.

Channeling Streisand, Rees’ Brooklyn accent, the pugnacious expression on ‘her’ face, the downward gaze from an uptilted head as she stares cross-eyed at her companion, the nasal accent emerging from the famous schnoz . . . Well, by the end of the play you can feel yourself in the presence of this awkward, homely-beautiful megastar.

It helps that we all know Barbra. Who can forget her? The gutteral speaking voice and the soaring song? the huge honker and the inexplicable beauty? the Egyptian eyes on a New Yawk Jewess? Who can overlook her TV chats with friends Ellen and Oprah? Her championing of liberal causes?

Barbra is a well-loved icon in America, but even if you aren’t familiar with every facet of the Streisand lifestyle, Tolins by the end does make you feel the poignancy of a star who has acquired the sun, moon and stars, and still harbors all-too-human insecurities.

The nut graf— as reporters at The Wall Street Journal used to call it— in this case is a few lines very near the end. Rees spreads his arms out wide and declares that our height is about the same as our arm-span. And what’s in this enclosure, this space we inhabit, he tells us, is what matters.

The contrast between this perspective and Streisand’s enormous home, her carefully chosen furnishings, the mall she has created in her basement . . . is as clear as Streisand’s voice: All that clutter won’t buy happiness.

Buyer & Cellar was nominated for Best Play and won Best Leading Actor by BroadwayWorld Montreal last summer. This year it’s had a good run at Theatre Ste Catherine under the auspices of the Montreal Fringe Festival. It’s been performed Off-Broadway and in several other venues. If you missed this summer’s production, watch for a return at some point. And keep an eye on Donald Rees. He is an original— yes, scintillating.

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