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Boy Meets (a Funny) Girl in ETC’s “Buyer and Cellar”

Nick Cearley in "Buyer and Cellar"

Nick Cearley in “Buyer and Cellar”

Review by Kenneth Stern of Buyer and Cellar: Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati

If I were writing this review as Alex, the protagonist of ETC’s delightful Buyer and Cellar, a one man show about an actor who becomes the caretaker of the treasures in Barbra Streisand’s basement, here is how it might go:

When the buyer and the cellar are both unseen, and the seller is telling you—no, dramatizing for you, that dreamiest of gay fantasies: working for Barbra Streisand, and this narrator is an out of work actor who lost his last gig as mayor of Toontown at Disneyland, and the actor, Alex More (perfectly played by Nick Cearley), and Barry, Alex’s Jewish boyfriend, both first can’t believe it and then later is critical of Barbra, and every last word and gesture (and, wow, are there gestures throughout) and not only does Alex create the whole cast, including husband James Brolin, and of course Barbra, but more impressionistically rather than mimicking, and very true seeming), and knows Barbra’s entire oeuvre, referencing it and half of Hollywood’s stars, it seems, weaving them into his story quite tastefully (thanks to a great script by Jonathan Tolins and typically spot on directing from D. Lynn Meyers) and Alex tells the whole thing in a simple, tastefully painted seaside blue sun room, with twin sets of French doors, in white, of course, as is the trim and wainscoting, well, that makes for a fast paced 95 minutes (no intermission) and is a show well worth watching. If you want laughs, and an evening of great theatre, make it to Buyer & Cellar at the Ensemble Theatre, now through November 1st. This one is fun, as any good gay actor getting to act gay and act working for Barbra Streisand, too, must be.

Alex is upfront from the beginning, telling us that this is a work of fiction, that he doesn’t “do” her, or impressions, and that this isn’t real. But that is his introduction to his very real sounding story, drawing the audience  in sharing the conversations they had—and for that he will “just be her.” And he is, creating the most enchanting telling of his time working in Barbra Streisand’s basement mini-mall, Nick Ceareley as Alex More being Barbra Streisand, sharing incidents that Jonathan Tolins made up (Ceareley, Meyers and Tolins clearly making a trifecta).

Native Cincinnatian Cearley brought this play to the Ensemble asking Meyers to stage it and cast him. She did. As Myers notes in her director’s notes and her opening night welcome, this is the perfect whimsical follow up to the quite serious run of Luna Gale in September.\

Like everything else, the staging (set and lighting designed by Brian c. Mehring) is in a tastefully understated way. This less is more, allowing Ceareley to spin his vignettes (“The stories are endless” he tells Babra the first time she comes down), with us imagining Fifi the doll blowing bubbles through her pipe) or of Babra coming down, post dinner party for frozen yogurt (coffee) with sprinkles and ten minutes later husband James Brolin comes down for the same (for her it’s intimated).

Alex is very much the gay actor: the hands go up, wave wildly, rumple his hair, and his voice slides up and down through a matching extended range. Alex is very real, and funny as he is, his relationships with Barry and Barbra are serious and sensitive. At the end he has shared the pathos of two lives. It is a verbal romp, till it is not, as this “bio-staging” weaves the sad story of Streisand’s childhood upbringing in poverty, her doll a hot water bottle, with miniature hat and sweater knitted by a neighbor.

At the end, after break ups and getting back together (with Barry), I felt I had a great, human friend in Alex, and that he had shared very profound, personal, and true moments of his (and his friend Barbra’s) life with me.

A great performance and a great staging.