Theatre Review: “Buyer & Cellar” by Jonathan Tolins

Weston PlayhouseWESTON, Vt. – The spotlights of the intimate OtherStages at the Weston’s Rod and Gun Club illuminate to reveal a sparsely set stage: a couch, a chaise, and a desk, all monochromatic beige. The full cast is on stage as well: a single actor, Kyle Branzel. Yet the juxtaposition between the stark appearance and the richly colorful and compelling performance make “Buyer & Cellar” a must-see as summer comes to a close. The non-profit Weston Playhouse presents the Vermont premier of this off-Broadway play as the venue’s final performance. The ribbon cutting at the Playhouse’s new second stage at Walker Farm is scheduled for September 23.

 

Kyle Branzel as Alex More is the one-man-tour-de-force. Photo provided by westonplayhouse.org.

The ingenuity for this production is based on Barbra Streisand’s book titled “My Passion for Design,” in which she described her Malibu estate complete with a shopping mall in the basement of the barn.  The mall consists of an antique shop, a gift shop, a dress shop, and B’s doll shop, among others. The mall is for the keeping of Barbra’s tchotchkes.

This is the story of Alex More’s voyage from Wisconsin to California in pursuit of an acting career. Alex is unemployed and is hired by the housekeeper of Ms. Streisand’s estate to be the lone shopkeeper for all the boutiques, and Barbra is the only customer. Over time they become friends as Barbra returns day after day in search of the doll she never had as a child. They squabble over the price. Will they ever come to an agreement for a sale?

At times Alex is bored, confused and elated in his new position and he sounds off his feelings to his boyfriend, Barry.

Alex and Barbra’s friendship continues to develop when they discover they share a mutual passion for acting. Barbra pursues the role of Rose in “Gypsy” while Alex takes on the parts of all other characters.  They practice their lines back and forth while gaining insight into each other’s personalities.

One evening Barbra hosts an affair upstairs while Alex is confined to the basement.  He can hear the laughter and joviality going on above. He is working overtime, passing hours in solitude. Eventually he has a customer: Barbra’s husband. Imagine his excitement when he can deliver a frozen yogurt to this visitor.

Again Alex confides in Barry until Barry gives him an ultimatum. Alex must choose between his love for Barry and his relationship with Barbra. The decision does not end well for the two lovers.

Alex becomes more and more curious, yearning to learn anything of the big house. Eventually Barbra invites him for a tour. Alex is overwhelmed with the spaciousness and beauty of the estate. The two end up in the family room and Alex is finally learning about true endearment.  This performance is about escape from our often cruel and cold world. It personifies a wonderful world where everything is perfect. Barbra Streisand set up this Utopia.

The talented Kyle Branzel plays the various parts of five characters differentiated by change of lighting, facial

Weston Playhouse
Kyle Branzel plays the Alex More character in “Buyer and Cellar.” Photo provided by the westonplayhouse.org.

expressions, and mannerisms. The flip of his wrist adjusted the collar of his cardigan to help signify his transition between character portrayals, as well as the change of inflection in his voice and demeanor. For 90 minutes Kyle Branzel captivates the attention of his audience and he owns you as he keeps changing between the five characters. It is funny and witty, holding one’s attention throughout the performance.

Wow!  Be sure to catch a performance before the final curtain call, Sept. 3.

 

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