After its New York City debut in April 2013, Jonathan Tolins' play Buyer and Cellar transferred to a long Off-Broadway run (which finally closes this Sunday), and its tour has stopped in Chicago and Washington D.C. But perhaps the play is most at home in L.A., where it currently runs at the Mark Taper Forum.
"I think there's something to be said when you're doing a play about the life that the people in the room are really living," Tolins told the L.A. Times.
The comedy’s charming storyteller Alex More (played by Michael Urie) tells his tale of working beneath Barbra Streisand’s multi-million dollar Malibu estate, in a fake shopping mall she designed. “This is a fantasia of a real person and a real place, but in a fictional sense,” said Urie in a phone interview. “Almost like fan fiction.”
It’s hilarious to hear Alex’s take on aspects of L.A. that we can all relate to: how much he loves The Grove, how there’s no quick way to get to Malibu and even how bland but still somehow captivating listening to Santa Monica City Council meetings on KCRW can be.
Details like these — along with the fact that Streisand's crazy basement actually exists — are what make the fictional plot seem so real.
According to the play’s director Stephen Brackett, these lines still gets laughs when the play's performed in other cities — a credit to Tolins' writing and Urie’s personable delivery.
“Some audiences really enjoy the Los Angeles references,” explained Brackett by phone. “The show is so detailed that the audience gets a real sense of the location.”
He added, “Even though I hadn’t been to L.A. much, the joke[s] added to the texture of the play and [were] still funny.”
Since the Mark Taper Forum is the largest venue to house the play so far, Brackett and Urie had to make some minor adjustments to the performance. Brackett said that the lines haven’t changed, but during a rehearsal day before the L.A. premiere he and Urie adjusted Urie’s stage placement so that he opened up and directed his lines to all sections of the audience — instead of just forward, like in smaller theaters.
Since Buyer and Cellar is a one-man show, Urie's intimacy with the audience is important. It's as if he's having a natural, one-on-one conversation. “We talked early on about the show being like a really good friend telling a very specific story,” said Brackett.
One reason the play works well in L.A. is that it deals with the issues of celebrity and success, which help it resonate with Hollywood audiences. On the one hand, there’s Alex, a struggling actor hoping to make a name for himself. On the other, there’s Streisand, who, despite her super-fame and fortune, still seems dissatisfied with her stardom.
Watching the developing relationship between these two is both compelling and hysterical. And even if it’s completely fictional, for many Angelenos, it’s relatable.
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