BUYER & CELLAR now on at THE LYRIC STAGE is a terrifically entertaining, laugh out loud (I did many times) riot! It’s a one-man show set in the basement of the one-woman show that is forever BARBRA. As in STREISAND. As in fabulous. And now a word about the fabulous Phil Tayler. He is utterly divine, holding us all in thrall, alone, on a beautifully appointed stage.
He plays Alex More, an actor who, having been fired for “breech of character” after an unfortunate incident while inhabiting a costume in Disneyland, has been hired to inhabit BARBRA’S brand of Disney. She has turned her basement into a boutique wonderland stocked with the overflow of a vast and colorful life on stage and screen. Her cellar has been fashioned to look like a quaint street full of “shoppes” stocked with acres of bric a brac, tchotchkes, and collectibles of all sorts from gowns and hats to jewelry and dolls, the decadent detritus of a life extravagantly lived.
Alex has been hired as the “shoppe”keeper, who dusts, and arranges, and tends to the acres of sundries and baubles, perpetually awaiting, in character, the unannounced arrival of the one and only shopper, Miss B. When she does arrive, Alex, thanks to his grounding in improvisation, is more than prepared to bargain with the queen of the realm. They haggle and they forge a relationship of sorts, and I wonder if Streisand has seen it? There’s speculation that if she did, there might be litigation–unless she couldn’t stop herself from laughing.
Tayler is a wonder. He’s stood out before in “Avenue Q,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Stones in His Pockets,” but at last he takes center stage solo, telling straight out what is and is not real, and is immediately charismatic and in charge. Perfect comic timing and a diabolically mischievous tone distinguish his wise and wandering actor/ersatz proprietor Alex; Tayler then slips in and out of all the other characters like “butta.” There’s Alex’s own jealous boyfriend Barry, the good and evil Babs herself, her ice-cream fetching husband James Brolin, plus that other aspirational diva: Oprah. I particularly loved the scathingly hilarious movie review of Barbra’s baldly narcissistic outing in “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”
Playwright Jonathan Tolins has crafted a little comic gem in BUYER & CELLAR–see it shine through the holidays at The Lyric Stage until January 3!
Which brings me to the latest from Robert Brustein, revered critic, playwright, teacher, scholar, author, and founder of Repertory Theaters Yale and American. His latest play, broadly directed by Steven Bogart is called EXPOSED. I call it Execrable. A co-production of The Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP) and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, it purports to be a political satire a la Moliere’s “Tartuffe.”
Farce ensues when right-wing Texan blowhard billionaire Seymour Sackeroff (Jeremiah Kissel) and his hot to trot mother Hortense (Annette Miller) set out to put hypocritical televangelist Dick Cockburn (Michael Hammond) in the White House. But when Dick literally exposes himself to Seymour’s cleavage-baring, pearl-wearing daughter Caroline (Annabelle Cousins), she and Seymour’s ex-show girl wife Candy (Abby Goldfarb), and his flamboyantly gay ne’er do well son Ronald (Scott Barrow), attempt to expose Dick as the overheated impostor he is.
Admittedly, it’s hard to satirize a world where such characters exist unabashedly and for real. The play states and restates the obvious without telling us anything which hasn’t already been exposed. This satire is late to the game and lacks bite; all manner of Fox News worthy pet causes from climate change deniers to the head of Cecil the Lion are on display.
But that’s only part of the problem. There’s the actual crudeness of the play itself. The Koch brothers become the “Crotch” brothers. There’s a long-running, unfunny gag involving Seymour’s hearing loss. A bell dings every time the dialogue dips into Moliere-like meter. Couldn’t swear if it was strictly hexameter, but could absolutely swear that it made me cringe. Couplets rhyming “cushy” with “tushy” are nothing compared to what we and a most unfortunate actor had to bear/bare. And would someone please consult a Catholic on the correct meaning of the phrase “Immaculate Conception”? It has nothing to do with whether or not Mary was a virgin.
The cast features some of Boston’s finest, and they give it their best shot. Annette Miller is the most successful at naturalizing the verse as dialogue, and Remo Airaldi in a mystical appearance, is by far the funniest, most delightful character onstage. The actor I pitied most? The unfortunate Mr. Hammond as the religious fraud required to pull his pants down and moon the audience not once, but twice in the course of 90 minutes, uninterrupted. If only someone had.
A limited engagement (for sure) at the BCA Calderwood Wimberly Theater through 12/18.