Saturday, June 6, 2015

"Buyer and Cellar" - A Feyful Comedy

Tom Lenk in :"Buyer and Cellar" Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater

If reincarnation really does exist, I’d say that actor, Tom Lenk, had to be a hummingbird in his previous life. In "Buyer and Cellar," now at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, he flits around the stage of the O’Reilly like some high-octane- powered coffee addict. Even the broad stage of the theater seems too confining for his kinetic antics for he even moves off-stage into the audience during the intermission-less show, several times as far as the lower balcony.
Lenk plays Alex, a struggling actor, just fired from his job as a character portrayer at Disneyland and looking for work. Fate gives him a referral to a job many guys of the gay persuasion would die for- tending the 1800s faux shopping mall Barbra Streisand created in the basement of her palatial compound in Malibu
Playwright Jonathan Tolins got the inspiration for the work from Streisand’s 2010 book "My Passion for Design" in which she describes her mini-mall full of things she’s collected and amassed over years of determined shopping. It’s Alex’s job to keep things dusted, in order and available to its sole customer - Babs herself. A detail-addicted perfectionist, she knows that any mall worth its salt needs a salesclerk to satisfy her demand for realism and Alex fits the bill. (For added verismo, she’s even installed a popcorn machine and a yogurt dispenser - What flava would ya like?).
Tom Lenk in "Buyer and Cellar"
In this 100-minute, nonstop test of endurance that gives the Pittsburgh Marathon a run for its money, Lenk plays not only Alex but also his boyfriend, Barr (both on the fey side of the masculine-feminine spectrum), Streisand’s amanuensis, her husband, James Brolin, even the superstar herself. Lenk delivers his dialogue at a fast clip and transitions between characters at the blink of an eye. Add to this gallimaufry, Lenk’s celerity of movement and you might think everything is one big blur.  But you’d be wrong.
With directorial help from Don Stephenson, Lenk’s every word is comprehensible and in character, although, when it comes to the songstress diva, he explains early on he’s not out to impersonate Streisand but merely convey a mental impression of her.
As Alex spends lonely hours mired in the fantasy mall with shops for dolls, antiques, curios - the bric-a-brac of a lifetime of conspicuous consumption, he manages to fill in the time imaginatively. His big moment comes when Streisand enters the shop, strikes up a fellowship that grows over time (she comes almost daily to chit chat) then morphs into an unlikely intimacy between the wealthy starlet and the impecunious actor.
Besides his entertaining humor and wit, the playwright packs lots of Streisand lore, film references and name dropping  into the script and even exposes what he sees is some of the superstar’s vulnerabilities and peccadilloes. There’s so much to the script, in fact, that I imagine it must be the size of a Manhattan phone book in the days before cell phones.
But the play is more than just Streisand and Alex. For added interest, Tolins also shows how Alex’s relationship with Barry is affected, reshaped and transformed by his envious association with the film and pop music superstar. Near the end, there’s even a mood changing, emotionally moving scene that adds a bit of poignancy to the question of what is really important in life’s solitary saga.
With so much going on at a quick time romp, you hardly notice scenic designer, Michael Schweikardt’s minimalist, white-splashed  set with only a few props to support Lenk’s Herculean effort.
Tom Lenk in "Buyer and Cellar" Photo Credit Pittsburgh Public Theater

One thing though. I left the theater wondering what brand of coffee the actor drank. I could use a mug or two of his invigorating brew, especially on those dark, dreary mornings of winter.
"Buyer and Cellar" is at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh through June 28. Phone 412-316-1600 or visit

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