Review: Buyer & Cellar (Mirvish)

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Mirvish presents the Off-Broadway comedy Buyer & Cellar starring Christopher J. Hanke in Toronto

There are two types of people in the world, those who love Barbara Streisand and those who don’t. Those in the former camp don’t just love Streisand, the LOVE her. Playwright Jonathan Tolins aims his one-man comedy Buyer & Cellar squarely at this group. For those of us in the other camp? Well, this show may not hold quite as much appeal. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Barbara Streisand and I do have a passing interest in her. I’ve always found it fascinating how someone could be so astronomically successful and powerful yet still be insecure. I also find it interesting to examine how the other half lives and whether achieving that level of wealth inevitably leads to eccentricity so I was curious enough to check out the show.

In Buyer & Cellar, an out-of-work LA actor lands an unlikely job working in the private shopping mall in the basement of Barbara Streisand’s Malibu estate.

It’s a flimsy pretext that the performer acknowledges right at the top of the show as a completely fictional scenario but the playwright uses it as a sort of construct to delve into, explore and deconstruct Streisand’s psyche. The play is an unconventional portrait of the legend through the eyes of a character who acts as a proxy for the Streisand fans in the audience.

Christopher J. Hanke plays the lead character, Alex Moore, plus a handful of other characters and channels Babs herself (at least in mannerism if not in full-blown impersonation). Hanke has a likeable personality and delivers his performance with an aww-shucks sincerity and undeniable charm that kept me paying attention even when I thought the material wore thin.

For the most part the show is fluffy, fun and light-hearted. The jokes land at a good rhythm and I didn’t find it unenjoyable to watch. However, I did think that any deeper, more meaningful exploration of the subject was too quickly tossed aside in favour of inside jokes and references that play to the Streisand fans in the audience. Consequently, I thought the show covered much of the same territory over and over again and felt that it dragged at parts even at its economical 100-minute run time.

As an attempt at balance, the playwright addresses criticisms of Barbara in the form Alex’s boyfriend Bobby, a sort of “bitchy queen” stereotype who viciously lays into her at times, but Buyer & Cellar is ultimately a loving and reverent portrait of the icon.

The show is not unlike the many topic-specific, one-person shows you often find in the Fringe Festival. These types of shows often come off as niche and self-indulgent and I don’t think Buyer & Cellar escapes that trap. If you’re a hardcore Streisand fan you’re in the niche the show is aimed at you’d likely end up loving it. If you’re not, I’d probably give this one a pass.

Details:

  • Buyer & Cellar is playing from November 12 to 30, 2014 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto.
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $25 – $79. Discounts for groups of 15 or more.
  • Tickets are available in person at any Mirvish theatre box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at Mirvish.com.

Photo of Christopher J. Hanke by Joan Marcus

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