For the first time in our young lives, my fellow reviewer and I wandered into a public space and had to endure several hours of a production that was not targeted at our coveted demographic. Being young, liberal females, marketing executives, screenwriters, and clothing lines alike yearn to get their fingers into our wallets — but Buyer & Cellar, a comedy brought to life by PURE Ensemble member Brannen Daugherty — wasn’t really focused on what we were thinking at all. No millennial pink, no name drops we would recognize, and not a single reference to memes or covfefe. And you know what? We were fine with that. The whole point of Piccolo Spoleto and Spoleto Festival USA is to expand the mind and experience new depths of artistic culture. We were hopeful, excited, even.
But as the play went on, we started to notice that not even the intended demographic, most likely forty-somethings with experience in theater, was all that captivated by the premise, or the writing … or really any of it. By the first Holocaust joke — yep, you read that right — all hope for the evening was lost; the following jokes at the expense of Jewish people sprinkled throughout the next hour and a half were just nails in the coffin.
The one-man show revolves around an unemployed actor, recently fired from a job as the Mayor of Toontown in Disneyland, who finds work in the basement mall Barbra Streisand keeps up in her meticulously designed estate in Malibu. The pair eventually become something close to friends, and he helps her begin to envision a screenplay of Gypsy. In what we’re supposed to take as a plot twist, Streisand seduces him into sitting on her couch, and for a horrifying moment, the audience is tricked into thinking this is really about a love connection between the pair, until it’s revealed that Streisand’s comparing the color of her basement-mate’s hair against the chenille of her sofa to find the right color swatch for new throw pillows. It was weird, smacked of Hannibal Lecter, and made my fellow reviewer and I sink so low into our chairs that we almost fell out of them.
The problem we had with Buyer & Cellar wasn’t the actor’s chops. It can’t be easy to play six different parts at the same time, and he brought humor and charm to the production. Rather, the problem seems to lie in the material, reminiscent of the way paleo desserts can be good, for something made out of sawdust and black beans. The play really just seemed like an in-joke between the playwright and the show biz community, or maybe even just a play based off of the playwright’s shameless love for Babs. If you didn’t know anything about Streisand or the people relevant to her life, the play was unenjoyable at best. Nothing significant really developed throughout the plot, the main character doesn’t change much from the beginning to the end, and the whole play falls flat with a watered-down message that the space you occupy is more important than what you own (which we know for sure, because our protagonist informs us directly that this is the point).
To accurately sum the whole experience up, we’ll quote the main character himself (and read this in a begrudging voice): “I know, right?”