Fort Worth — Barbra Streisand has a subterranean mall of shops at her home.
This is the factual springboard from which playwright Jonathon Tolins created his one-man show, Buyer and Cellar. In Stage West’s newly outfitted studio space, actor Doug Atkins dives into the otherwise entirely fictional yarn about being hired to work underground, literally. Director Dana Schultes keeps it all as smooth and light as the frozen yogurt that churns there for only one person.
Jim Covault delivers a tasteful set with white-on-white furniture, possibly in reverence for Streisand’s book: My Passion for Design from which the author culled the fascinating reference to her secret underground retail getaway. His one flight of fancy is a cloud-painted floor that feels very Magritte under the feet. The very thing that’s denied our protagonist, the sky, gently changes color with lighting designer Nate Davis’ whim.
Atkins plays an actor named Alex who, having recently lost his theme park job, accepts a secretive assignment based on his previous retail experience. Though he claims it all to be a total fabrication, Atkins’ skill and specificity will have you swearing that you’ve seen pictures of the antique dolls for sale down under. Despite the density of punch lines, he makes it all marvelously real.
Of course, this is part and parcel of any one-man show. If you aren’t a fan of the one-man, you’re stuck. Atkins is such a lithe and charismatic performer, it’s hard to imagine this as a sticking point, but as Buyer and Cellar, makes the rounds, you may have opportunities to comparison shop. That would make this his Amazon review.
Congenial and energetic, Atkins wears a flight attendant’s smile and moves with a dancer’s lifted intent. The characters he inhabits come and go with an ease more akin to a good conversationalist than a dramatic performance. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t tension. Alex and Barbra have their moments. You know, the sort that pass between the rich and famous and those that have been hired to act as though they are in charge of selling their possessions back to them.
For fans of Babs, this show is a must. For the less fanatical, playwright Tolins creates a boyfriend for Alex, Barry, who can emphasize the significance of certain things that might get otherwise get lost. Outside of the obviously bizarre scenario, there is a lot of humor that works best on folks who know that Barbra spells her first name with only two a’s. Fortunately, Atkins can use his discretion in landing the jokes. The show works entirely differently on a Saturday night crowd than a Sunday afternoon crowd, to be sure.
In either case, there’s a message amongst the laughs about the trade-offs that performers have to make in pursuit of a life in the arts. Some are obvious like compromise versus control embodied in the main characters, as well as money and poverty. The one that lets you leave feeling better about the choices you’ve made, however, is the exchange of isolation for community. You may get to have things exactly the way you want when you are at the top, but that’s all they are. Things. Friendship is a little trickier.
For everything else, there’s Mastercard, I guess.
I wouldn’t know.
I’m an artist.