A Tayler tour de force in ‘Buyer & Cellar’
BOSTON – There are stars – and then there are stars who become entertainment icons.
It usually coincides with the use of only a last name to identify them. Springsteen. Jackson. Streisand.
Barbra Streisand is not everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone knows her and her career spans more than a half-century after her breakthrough role in “Funny Girl” on Broadway in 1964.
But she has remained largely a private person, who as time went on made fewer and fewer excursions into the worlds of films, TV, and the concert stage. Her “Back to Brooklyn” concerts and a few movie roles have made her more visible recently.
But the fascination with the Brooklyn native with the prominent schnoz who made the decision to keep the nose just like it was has never waned, so playwright Jonathan Tolins made a smart choice when he made Streisand a central character in his play “Buyer & Cellar,” now at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Jan. 3.
There aren’t many actors the Lyric Stage would trust with a 100-minute solo performance that is a test of concentration and stamina, but Phil Tayler is one of them, and he imbues the character of chronically unemployed or underemployed actor Alex More with self-deprecating humor, a gift for storytelling and a talent for inhabiting several different and distinct characters.
“Buyer & Cellar” is fiction, but it is based on something true: La Streisand had a shopping mall built in the basement of her Malibu estate. Playwright Tolins takes that and runs with it, imagining a Disneyland Main Street-type setup that includes a doll store, an antique shop, a gift shop, and a frozen yogurt machine – all for one potential customer.
Tolins has also pounced on an actual book Streisand wrote – “My Passion For Design” – which details her rise from a cramped Brooklyn apartment living with her mother, brother and grandparents to the palace she always wanted, complete with her own photos of the rooms she decorated and the art and furnishings she used and the gardens she planted on her estate.
More’s struggles as an actor include getting the heave-ho from Disneyland of all places, and desperate for anything that will pay his car repair bill, a friend throws him a bone and sends him off to be interviewed for a job.
That job, it turns out, is essentially “managing” Streisand’s mall, making sure the stores are properly “stocked” and that the yogurt machine and popcorn maker are both working.
The most memorable character Taylor portrays is Alex’s bitchy, sarcastic, struggling screenwriter boyfriend whose rants after he discovers that Alex has hooked up with Streisand – and what that might mean to his career – are priceless.
Then there’s the woman who supervises Alex and addresses him with an endless sneer, and, of course, Streisand herself, as well as a special guest appearance by Mr. Streisand,, James Brolin himself. Alex can’t help that his mother found him irresistibly attractive in “Marcus Welby. M.D.”
There’s fun to be had with Streisand and Alex haggling over the “price” of a doll and Alex standing firm in his determination to get his price, and a storyline about Alex becoming Streisand’s acting coach for a possible remake of “Gypsy,” with Streisand playing Mama Rose.
But at no point does Tolins have Alex feel secure about the state of their relationship, or its possible endurance. He is always in the moment, knowing a cross word or a sideways glance might put him out of her favor and back on the street.
Tolin made a decision to fill in the blanks with Streisand with what he knew about her as a performer and a person, and he added the requisite vulnerabilities and insecurities, as well as the drive that pushed her to the top.
It will not end well for Alex, of course, but in this case it’s all about the journey.
Director Courtney O’Connor is a longtime friend of Tayler’s, and it’s her job to keep him and his various characters under control when he’s teetering on the brink of losing them.
“Buyer & Cellar” is a solo tour de force with both wit and wisdom, the kind of show that won’t weigh you down with everything else you’re already carrying during the holiday season.
The Lyric Stage Production of Jonathan Tolins’ “Buyer & Cellar.” Directed by Courtney O’Connor. Scenic design by Anthony R. Phelps. Costume design by Rafael Jaen. Lighting design by Chris Brusberg. Sound design by David Remedios. Threough Jan. 3. lyricstage.com.