A young actor who loses his job at Disneyland finds new work in, of all places, a shopping mall located in the basement of a beloved megastar’s Malibu mansion. He doesn’t fancy himself a particularly big fan when he’s hired, but once he meets Barbra Streisand in person, he quickly sees himself as an important force in her life.
In “Buyer & Cellar,” Alex More is “an unreliable narrator,” as the actor who portrays him puts it, so there’s plenty of room for reality and fantasy to battle for the comic upper hand. The saturation of star culture, the exaggerated value placed on things and the pitfalls of fandom all offer space for reflection – and laughter.
Live Arts will present the one-man show by playwright Jonathan Tolins in its Founders Theater Friday through April 29. A preview performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, with opening night at 8 p.m. on Friday.
Those who can suspend disbelief thoroughly enough to imagine a celebrity’s house being massive enough to conceal a shopping mall, are likely to have a good time, according to its star and director.
Popular culture’s fascination with celebrities gives audience members a comfortable entry point into the story. Familiarity may not always breed contempt; in “Buyer & Cellar,” it invites a sense of entitlement that’s, well, too big for its basement. At times, it’s as if Streisand has no expectation of privacy in her own home.
When stars seem constantly available on screens and online, “we feel as if we own a little bit of their lives,” director Jude Hansen told The Daily Progress. “We feel entitled to learn more about their private lives because they’re in the public spotlight.”
Jack Clifford plays Alex and a collection of other characters who help establish the fanciful premise. Clifford, who is pursuing his Master of Fine Arts degree in drama in the University of Virginia’s Professional Actor Training Program, said he normally doesn’t seek out one-man shows, but he quickly got on board with “Buyer & Cellar” once he read the script.
“I read the play in the airport while waiting for a flight to California,” Clifford said. “The writing style really appealed to me.”
Until a friend from Live Arts suggested he send in an audition tape, “I’d never heard of it before,” Clifford said. He submitted a tape, was invited to callbacks and was offered the role in short order.
The play does not require a Streisand impersonation, which gives Clifford the freedom to choose a trait or two to convey the lauded winner of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Fans will recognize Streisand, but they won’t be weighed down by a caricature, he said.
Clifford said he relates to many aspects of main character Alex’s personality, which makes shifting in and out of character go smoothly.
“He’s sort of an unreliable narrator, which I find intriguing,” he said. “Every night is a new show. I can just be. I’m trying for authenticity in each moment.”
Striking that balance means recognizing that Alex allows fandom to get the better of him, even when he thinks he’s above all that.
“The more time he spends around this woman, he is enamored with her,” Clifford said. “He believes he has become a friend, which is not really true.”
Hansen said the character is safe in Clifford’s hands. Clifford has an ideal skill set to invite audience members into Alex’s world and drawing laughs without ridicule.
“It’s a very sassy character,” Hansen said. “Finding an actor who has the capacity of language and could flip from character to character is key. There is a plethora of one-liners, and throughout the show, there may be Easter eggs and references” that will delight devoted Streisand fans.
“Buyer & Cellar” runs about an hour and 40 minutes, so it’s important to have an appealing guide to the show’s wacky world. “It’s a long time for one person to be talking and maintaining an audience, and Jack has all of this,” Hansen said.
Tolins found inspiration for “Buyer & Cellar” in “My Passion for Design,” a coffee-table book Streisand wrote about her actual environs. Hansen said part of the appeal of the book is the way in which Streisand allows her “perfection in curating of the space” to explore objects and memories that matter to her.
That book explores “her relentless precision is in trying to find the right pieces to go together,” Hansen said. A memoir Streisand is expected to release in November may offer deeper glimpses of what she holds dear, he said, which may be different from what fans assume they know about her.
The show’s creative team also includes Elizabeth Rose as production stage manager and choreographer, Russell Petro as scenic designer, Kyndal Harrison as lighting designer, Sarah Harden as sound designer, Mimi Halpern as costume and properties designer and Javier Perez as projections designer.
Tickets are $27; students and seniors pay $22. Get them online at livearts.org/tix or call the box office at (434) 977-4177, ext. 123.
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