On Theater: Broad comedy in Babs' basement
Technically, "Buyer & Cellar," the current production at the Laguna Playhouse, is a one-man show. Theatrically, it involves several other people, including one of the most famous women in America, if not the world.
This wildly inventive comedy by Jonathan Tolins imagines a struggling young actor who lands a job as "curator" of a mini-mall in the basement of Barbra Streisand's Malibu estate, which is filled with souvenirs from the actress' career. And there's only one shopper — Babs herself.
As Emerson Collins, the stage's lone occupant — who serves up bites of this delicious script one by one — explains at the outset, this is a fictional play. The events never transpired. Then he sets to work making his audience believe just the opposite.
Under the imaginative direction of Larry Raben, Collins turns in a terrific performance in this energetic exercise, which clocks in at nearly two hours without intermission. He also manages to project the personas of his envious boyfriend, Streisand's snippy assistant and the funny lady herself. Hubby James Brolin also makes a cameo appearance.
Twisting his face and modifying his voice, Collins slips in and out of Barbra effortlessly, presenting her as a benign diva who actually becomes a friend, ultimately inviting him up to the main house, which Collins' character imagines as a sort of Valhalla.
Collins maintains his intimate connection with the audience, even while undergoing his character's own personal trauma. He possesses an unquenchable supply of energy, both physical and intellectual, as he spins this fantastic tale of a young gay man on the fringe of heaven.
Tolins based his play on the star's book "Barbra Streisand: My Passion for Design" and fills it with copious mental images of elaborate possessions. Ironically, the Laguna stage setting, credited to Josh Clabaugh, consists of an easy chair and a piano bench, which Collins moves around to suggest the changing scenic backgrounds.
"Buyer & Cellar" offers further proof that effective theater production may be achieved with minimal casting, as such performers as Chris Lemmon and Linda Purl have illustrated in the past in the art colony. It's high comedy with an imaginative twist at the Laguna Playhouse.