Basements are synonymous with sentimental hoarding. Oh, the things we can't part with but don't want in our "upstairs" lives.
Buyer & Cellar, the 2013 comedy by Jonathan Tolins, takes this universal conundrum to a superstar level. The setting involves the very real mall in the basement of Barbra Streisand's Malibu barn. As detailed in Streisand's book, My Passion for Design, these underground storefronts showcase the gifts, curiosities and souvenirs accrued by the multi-award-winning megastar.
Sounds pretentious? Hold on to your silver spoon.
Enter fictional, out-of-work actor Alex More, whose brief retail experience lands him the role of sole employee in this one-customer mall. More's sense of snark helps him survive the dull days, which he details to his Barbra-curious boyfriend, Barry. Things change when Streisand herself finally comes down to "shop."
An unlikely relationship between the megastar and the mega-nobody begins. Bartering over French dolls with fabricated backstories evolves into late-night yogurt confessionals and eventually professional collaboration. More delights in the bond, believing it to be a game-changer, until the day the megastar takes More into her upstairs life.
Buyer & Cellar is a one-man show, which enabled Spencer Theatre Company to keep a fall play in their rotation despite the pandemic pushing their January production of Driving Miss Daisy into July. The fact that actor Jacob Deters was interested in being that one man, sealed the deal.
"When we knew that Jacob was willing to take it on, we knew it was something that would be fabulous," producer Julie Staley said.
And it is fabulous.
Deters engages with the audience as if we're all his BFF, just waiting for him to come home and spill the Barbra Tea.
Working alone doesn't stop Deters from reenacting whole conversations, playing the roles of Streisand, Barry and anyone else who strays into his strange work week. He does so without impersonations, letting the kvetching take center stage. The arguments have an edge, the confessionals have a softness and the asides have a punch. These multi-character interactions can be dizzying at times, but it all plays into the feeling that Deters is talking just to you.
The dialogue is quick-witted and full of inside jokes, but Deters' charm keeps the clueless in the loop. A wink, a smile or a quizzical head tilt lets you know what he means, even if you don't know what he means. Deters' rock-solid rapport with the audience squeezes every bit of hilarity out of pivotal moments, especially when Streisand takes More upstairs.
The gorgeous Peggy Ryder Theatre is a quiet backdrop in this production. Director John Paris keeps the main stage curtained and dark. Instead, the action unfolds below the stage, with a simple rug and spartan furnishings. This choice by Paris creates the effect of being both underground and behind the scenes. Audience members are encouraged to sit close to the set, which completes the intimate setting.
Duane Fant's light and sound design is understated and perfect – a classic bell announcing Streisand's arrival, the soft wafting in and out of appropriately themed Streisand ballads, a subtle change in light. This stripped-down approach lets Deters be larger than life.
"We've had a fun time putting this show together with Jacob," Staley said. "[Deters is] a true professional and made the work easy for us. John Paris made the work lighter as well. They made a great team."
Buyer & Cellar is an entertaining evening for anyone who loves a well-told tale, especially those with basements full of "memories."
Nicole L.V. Mullis is a playwright, author and recent transplant to Springfield.
Times and tickets
The remaining Buyer & Cellar performances are 8 p.m. on Oct. 7 and 8 at the Peggy Ryder Theatre in the Hoogland Center for the Arts located at 420 S. 6th Street in Springfield. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors, and can be purchased through www.SpencerTheatreCompany.com or the Hoogland box office at 217-523-2787.