New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"Buyer and Cellar"
Westport Country Playhouse

Warning! Warning! Before you reach into your pockets to buy tickets for the Playhouse’s current offering, be forewarned. Here is a staggeringly disappointing one-man show, featuring actor Michael Urie. Our advice: stay away.

What should have been an immediate warning was the on-stage emptiness which promptly attacks the audience. Where is the décor? Where are the props? Urie appears, sits on the floor stage front and begins his chat. This reviewer, naively assuming it is the intro, warning viewers to turn off their cell phones, waits patiently, expecting the blank back panel to open to a striking set and cast. It soon becomes evident that this is THE show, a one-man show.

Not that we have a prejudice against one-actor shows, having seen occasional glorious examples over the years. Nor do we have prejudices against blank stages. The very best of theater can comprise an actor, a script, and a blank stage.

But Urie natters on and we finally realize he is telling a tale (based on fact), though many of the facts are lost in Urie’s rapid-fire delivery. Playwright Jonathan Tolins has based his tale on the fabulous, but bizarre, collection of Barbra Streisand, housed in the basement of her elegant home. Antiques, clothing, cultural artifacts all have the stamp of Barbra. The story weaves around Streisand, who hires an out-of-work gay actor (named Alex More) to host the basement collection (which she calls The Mall). Barbra appears from time to time, to acquire a dress or sip a frozen yogurt from the yogurt machine.

What finally emerges are glimpses of a poignant tale, the relationship between the awestruck More and the super-star with her very human failings. Urie as More also brings in James Brolin, Streisand’s husband, giving faint portrayals of both. The moments which reveal Streisand are intriguing, but the entire package, alas, is bland, suffocating, boring, and often confusing.

What puzzles this reviewer is that Urie has won numerous off-Broadway awards for this play in its original performance. Is it possible that the show has suffered in transference to the suburbs? Is the stage too broad, the Westport venue too large? What’s missing?

In any event, this reviewer’s final advice to would-be theatergoers: buyer beware!

--Irene Backalenick
June 23, 2016

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