Buyer & Cellar
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Through Nov 6
Jai Rodriguez begins this well-paced solo turn with an audience forewarning. “Before I tell you this story, we need to get a few things straight. First, this is a work of fiction. You know that, right? What I’m going to tell you could not possibly have happened with a person as famous, talented and litigious as Barbra Streisand.”
He then launches into this preposterous but immensely entertaining tale of Alex, an out-of work gay actor in Los Angeles who scores a job working in the basement of Streisand’s opulent digs in Malibu, where she’s set up a mini-mall, a cluster of of shops meticulously arrayed with her many possessions.
At its heart, playwright Jonathan Tolins’ tale plays on the gay obsession with Streisand, while still furnishing an insightful examination of the isolation created by extreme celebrity and the need of famous people to make personal connections. Rodriguez, who first became known for his regular appearances on TV’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, strikes the right balance between adoring fan and empathetic friend, almost immediately recognizing Streisand’s desire to establish a relationship. The two spar over the faux purchase of a doll, both clearly enjoying the gamesmanship of the sale. Rodriguez plays both parts, never attempting to emulate Streisand’s voice but executing her vocal timing to perfection. He also portrays Streisand’s husband, James Brolin, and Alex’s boyfriend Barry, who dislikes Streisand, and others.
Director Dimitri Toscas keeps the pace brisk through the evolution of their relationship, including Alex’s efforts to convince his diva boss to make a movie of Gypsy. They actually begin to put together a script, and start acting their way through the show. He discovers first-hand that she is a perfectionist who questions every line and every action. Their working intimacy also allows Streisand to let down her guard, and in a vulnerable moment she reveals her great regret at not being born beautiful. Along the way, Alex is constantly reminded by skeptical boyfriend Barry that Streisand is a rich and successful woman and Alex is her employee and not her friend.
Tolins’ play portrays Streisand as both the victor and the victim of her celebrity, one who enjoys the immense rewards of her status, yet remains isolated by the world’s intense scrutiny that both praises and condemns. Rodriguez’s performance as both the diva and the victim is a is praiseworthy one. His task is made immensely easier by Adam Flemming’s production design (scenic & projections), Nick McCord ‘s lighting, Robert Arturo Ramirez’s sound and John M. McElveney’s props.
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr. Burbank, Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sunday, 4pm., through Nov. 6; (818) 955-8101 or www.falcontheatre.com. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.