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ETC’s “Buyer and Cellar” a Fantasyland for Streisand Lovers

Review by Donna Hoffman of Buyers and Cellars: Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati

Nick Cearley in "Buyer and Cellar"

Nick Cearley in “Buyer and Cellar”

A monochromatic set is suitable for a 110 minute monologue. The handsome, tasteful, French Provincial set with white molded trim at the ceiling and the bottom half of the back wall with teal painted in-between is just a façade for a full video screen onto which simple symbols highlighted the message of “Buyer and Cellar.” However, the message was…what?

Nick Cearley (Alex More) is a very fun, practiced presence on-stage at The Ensemble Theatre. To keep this piece from being a comedic Ted Talk, Mr. Cearley uses the few pieces of furniture on stage and the cherry, parquet herringbone floor as his playground always hitting his mark and never leaving the light. He reminds us at the beginning of his monologue that this presentation is make believe and the only thing real about it is Barbra Streisand, the focus of this piece, who really did build a shopping mall in her basement and also wrote and photographed her book, “My Passion for Design.”

The central idea of “Buyer and Cellar” is the question, “What if someone has to work down there?” Alex More is the character who gets to explore that question. A sequence of events leads Alex to an interview for retail salesperson for the lady of the house who wants everything to be real, even though it’s an artificial environment. Alex is hired and tries to keep from getting bored by keeping the counters clean. Barbra visits once in a while when Alex doesn’t embody her as much as indicate her voice and body movement as he tells the story.

Alex learns early that not giving Ms. Streisand what she wants when she comes shopping in her own store is the best way to gain her confidence, keep his job, and make friends with Streisand. Jonathon Tolins, the playwright, quotes this fictional Streisand frequently. He says she says, “When you’re a woman no one just gives you anything,” and “Everybody’s got an opinion of me.” Frankly, the more he quoted Streisand the more shallow she became. There is a lot of name dropping in this piece from Barbara Boxer to Oprah. At 30 minutes my eyelids got heavy, at 45 minutes I almost fell asleep, at one hour I yawned, and at one hour and 15 minutes I fell asleep for about 30 seconds.

Alex also has a snarky boyfriend, Barry, who tells him, “Gypsy is a masterpiece, but what was she thinking about when she chose Little Fockers? You are not her friend. You are her slave in fantasyland.”

When Alex is invited upstairs and out of the basement he says, “I thought there was a lot of stuff in the basement, but there was even more crap upstairs.” Is Barbra Streisand a secret hoarder with good taste and no restraint?

This monologue is both as small as fingernails and as large as a shopping mall. If you’re a Barbara Streisand lover, you might like it.