If American theater dies suddenly in the next few years, “Buyer & Cellar” will be brought in for questioning.
Unless the murder weapon turns out to be an obtuse object, this play won’t be the killer. Jonathan Tolins’ riff on Barbra Streisand is too flaccid to do much damage, itself. But if respected groups like Pittsburgh Public Theater continue to produce such material, “Buyer & Cellar” may be an accessory to a death caused by willful, artistic malnutrition.
Indeed, “Buyer & Cellar” is the equivalent of junk food. It’s as empty of meaning as a mound of french fries is of vitamins.
But just as the fries are tasty going down, so Tom Lenk’s one-man performance is quite funny to watch. Yet, both leave you feeling vaguely guilty after consuming them.
Not that the actor best known for TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” brings much creative spark to the stage. The likable Lenk flubbed a few lines on opening night, minor mistakes which are far more forgivable than a lack of risk-taking. Call them pander bears, as Lenk and Tolins dust off just about every known gay stereotype — particularly the obsession with Streisand.
The writer got the idea for this play from a recent coffee-table book by Streisand, in which she talks about having a mall in the basement of her Malibu mansion. Tolins comes up with the idea of Alex, an out-of-work actor who is hired to work at Streisland.
Making it more surreal is that the shops at the mall are filled with the star’s collections, high-end stuff the pack-rat has accumulated.
The only shopper: Babs herself.
If this all doesn’t sound silly enough, imagine the superstar actress getting an idea for a movie from the mall clerk — and then getting coaching in acting from him.
In addition to Streisand and Alex, Lenk portrays several other characters, notably Barry, Alex’s boyfriend who grows increasingly jealous of the superstar.
“Buyer & Cellar” was directed by Don Stephenson, more or less. He has done better (“Noises Off” at Pittsburgh Public Theater last season, Tony Award for acting in “The Producers”). Stephenson and Lenk, who worked together on Broadway’s “Rock of Ages,” here can’t figure out how to work their way out of the handcuffs of Tolins’ tepid text.
The energetic Lenk wisely dials it down when he plays Streisand, with a low-key approach — as opposed to a campy, over-the-top take that would tempt many actors.
Ultimately, we don’t learn much about Streisand, nor Alex, Barry or the others. This play is more about stuff.
Streisand aficionados will chuckle along at Tolins’ zinger-filled references to her collections, her movies, albums and lovers.
Those who aren’t hugely into Streisand are advised to sell, not buy.
Tom Scanlon is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.