Barbra Streisand’s fans have cherished her eccentricities for decades, but it wasn’t until the 2010 publication of the coffee-table book My Passion for Designthat most of them learned of the existence of the star’s Malibu bunker. Streisand remodeled her waterfront compound to include a basement arranged as a shopping mall with “stores” displaying her various collections of dolls and other objects, and here were the pictures to prove it. For playwright Jonathan Tolins, the idea of a whole mall with just one customer naturally suggested that there would have to be at least one employee, and from that kernel he extrapolated the one-man show Buyer & Cellar, which opens this Saturday, January 27, at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. Brian McDonald stars as Alex More, the actor who takes the job of tending to Barbra Streisand’s private mall after an unfortunate misunderstanding with his previous employer—Toontown at Disneyland.
The show was a hit for the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in Manhattan, and it has gone on to receive much acclaim in other productions all over the country. It will be especially exciting to see what the multitalented actor/director McDonald brings to this role, or roles, as in the course of telling his Streisand story, Alex must assume the parts of four other characters, even to the point of speaking both voices in a dialogue.
McDonald, who has previously delighted audiences with his take on David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries, describes the challenge of this new project as a substantial one. “That was a little over an hour,” he said of the Sedaris, “while Buyer & Cellarruns one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission,” adding that, because of the pace of the writing, it “feels fast.” “It’s not a musical, but it’s a very musical piece,” said McDonald. And although he portrays Streisand, what he does is “not an impersonation” but rather the kind of vocal representation one might use when telling a story.
In fact, personal storytelling is part of the premise of Buyer & Cellar, as much of what Alex says is framed as what he has told his screenwriter boyfriend,Barry,about the latest crazy happenings chez Babs. According to McDonald, this helps the show to cover topics and stories that might be familiar to Streisand’s fans, but that require explanation for the rest of the audience. “It doesn’t feel like exposition,” according to McDonald, because the character of Barry allows these topics to “come up in a fun and inventive way.”
In the imaginary world of the play, Alex’s job in the mall leads to an intense personal relationship with Streisand, and he develops a protective affection for her that tempers the show’s tendency toward more biting forms of satire. “It’s about a woman who has surrounded herself with stuff,” said McDonald, “and at the same time she doesn’t know who to trust.” For the actor, the most important change that Alex goes through is that he“learns what role things play in our lives, and he shares that lesson with the audience.” In light of the terrible losses our community has suffered in recent weeks, McDonald hopes that this show’s thoughtful brand of light comedy will bring us all some relief in the form of laughter, and some wisdom about what really matters.
Buyer & Cellar opens on Saturday, January 27, and runs through Sunday, February 11, at the Rubicon Theatre (1006 E. Main St., Ventura). For tickets and information, call (805) 667-2900 or visit rubicontheatre.org.