THINGAMAJIG THEATRE: A Star is Born

By R. Eli Townsend

Andrew Start is so charming, it’s almost a crime. This New York actor has had the good sense to take on this show – the perfect showcase for his extraordinary talents. One wishes he could take it on the road, just like the big stars of past used to do.

The play is ‘Buyer & Cellar’ by Jonathan Tolins, a fantasy excursion about the memory of Barbra Streisand, which is to say, an examination of fame, wealth, creativity and loneliness, among other things. It’s a fascinating play with deep wells of compassion for the rich and famous, and for the poor and ignored.

But above all else, it’s funny. Really, really funny. It feels so good to be in such reliable company as Start, Tolins and director Melissa Firlit, all of whom take good care of the audience. Everything is carefully calibrated to allow us to relax into the situation as Start begins the 100-minute play in a very self-effacing way, endearing himself to the audience and ensuring us that what we’re about to see is purely a work of fiction inspired by something almost too strange too be true but that is, in fact, the truth.

In her 2010 coffee table book My Passion for Design, Streisand details the labor of love that is her own personal utopia, her Malibu compound where she lives with husband James Brolin. They live in one of the houses, and the other is a showcase for Streisand’s almost OCD-like enthusiasm for American art and architecture. In the basement of that house is an array of “shops” Streisand designed to hold her vast collections of dolls, antiques, clothing and the like.

Into this odd underground world comes Start’s Alex More, an unemployed actor who has just been fired from a gig in Disneyland. His charge is to manage the inventory and deal with this one and only “customer” – Streisand.

Playing all the parts on an elegant white set by Laura Moore accented by sharp projections and color shifts by Brian Freeland’s projection design and Mandy Heath’s lights, Start is laser-sharp with each expertly delineated persona. He’s Sharon, Streisand’s estate manager, Brolin and Barry, Alex’s screenwriter boyfriend. But most impressively, he’s Alex, a smart, fidgety guy who fights cynicism.

And of course, he’s also Streisand.

She appears as a “customer” in a doll “shop” haggling over a French doll that blows bubbles. Alex, with his improv comedy training, rises to the challenge but won’t back down on the arbitrary price he sets. Somehow, this both frustrates and intrigues Streisand, and their relationship is launched.

But, Alex and Barbra become chummy, which is always dangerous for the non-celebrity in the relationship. Streisand’s quirks are on full display here, but so is her intelligence, enthusiasm and passionate drive to create. Tolins is clearly well versed in all things Barbra, and his deconstruction of the superstar is done with insight as well as affection.

The performance of Start cannot be overstated. He’s warm, funny, smart and incredibly dynamic. He finds moments and beats in the script that just keep elevating the show until you don’t think it could possibly be funnier or more enjoyable. On stage, he’s able to show the same range and depth that he displayed in last year’s incredible ‘A Few Good Men’ in which he played Lt. Sam Weinberg. With Tolins’ script, he’s a revelation. Buyer & Cellar is a wonderful play made all the better for finding its perfect star.

Thingamajig Theatre Company presents ‘Buyer & Cellar’ by Jonathon Tolins. Directed by Melissa Firlit. Rated R. Playing at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts January 13 – 29, 2017. Weekdays at 7:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm. For tickets and information visit pagosacenter.org or call 731-SHOW (7469)

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