Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Review - Buyer & Cellar

I have been hearing wonderful things about Buyer & Cellar for quite awhile now - it's been repeatedly extended and original performer Michael Urie (and the play) received many accolades.  I saw Urie and enjoyed him greatly in The Temperamentals a few years ago, and he was the host at a gala I attended last year and I found him charming and delightful.  I was fortunate enough to receive a free ticket for last night's performance of Buyer & Cellar, but Michael Urie has moved on to the national tour.  My wonderfully handsome date and I saw Christopher J Hanke instead. 

Buyer & Cellar is a one-man comedy about a young actor who happens to work briefly for Barbra Streisand.  "Inspired" by Barbra Streisand's book My Passion for Design, the playwright has imagined a world where someone has to work for Streisand in the underground shopping mall on one of her estates (the mall actually exists, according to the book, but the rest of the play is strictly fictional, as we are repeatedly reminded).  I think there are some good ideas in here about how the uber-famous can get completely cut off from reality, and how we put them on a pedestal - then what happens when they fall off?  There are some hysterically funny scenes, especially when Hanke plays the young actor having a conversation with his boyfriend (also played by Hanke), who fills in the gaps if you lack knowledge about Streisand.  Oh, and the scenes where Streisand (obviously also played by Hanke, since I've said this is a one-man show) tries to bargain to buy a doll she already owns are very funny.  I also did crack up at the boyfriend's description of The MIrror Has Two Faces, since I have the same opinions about that movie.

A little long at 95 minutes, Buyer & Cellar is fun and I had a good enough time, but I certainly didn't find it as riotous as the rest of the audience seemingly did.  I think part of the problem I had with the show is that I didn't see Michael Urie in it.  Charm is such an ephemeral thing - you either have it or you don't.  Urie has it in spades and it is effortless (though I acknowledge I didn't see him in this production - I have seen him do several snippets, though,  here and there).  Hanke, while a wonderfully talented actor with crackerjack comic timing, forces the charm, in my opinion.  It's an effort-ful performance.  Not a bad one, certainly, but one where I saw the wheels turning almost constantly throughout.  So instead of a comically spontaneous riff on celebrity, I felt more of a calculated manipulation to hit all the stereotypical Streisand/gay moments.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Just my opinion.  And it was the minority opinion in the theater last night - the rest of the audience was eating the show up.  Now that I think about it, it's probably not fair to put the blame at the performer's feet - the playwright and director had a hand in things as well.

Having said all that, I admit that I laughed quite a bit and I was touched a couple of times.  That's always a good thing.  I just didn't think the play was the be-all-and-end-all of comedy.  Maybe my expectations were just too high after hearing all the accolades for so long.  I'm glad I saw it, I was grateful for the free ticket offer, and I had a fine time with my wonderfully handsome date, but I wished I had found more to enjoy in the play itself.  But, as I always say, your mileage may vary. 

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