Playwright Jonathan Tolins has managed to take material that could have inspired a campy gay play limited in its appeal to those whose idea of first class entertainment is a Saturday night sendup on Fire Island, and extracted from it a fully rounded one-man play that adds genuine wit, a generous helping of insight, and a warm heart to the brew.
One-man (or woman) ninety minute playlets are the new cottage industry. John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last opened only a few days before Buyer & Cellar. Both are star vehicles, and both are first rate plays in their own right. Some seasons back Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking offered Vanessa Redgrave another such opportunity. I found more meat on these one-person plays than in the dozen or so characters brought together by Richard Greenberg for this season’s The Assembled Parties or an equal number of hapless souls for Richard Nelson’s Nikolai and the Others.
In Jonathan Tolins’s play, currently at the small Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in Greenwich Village, on a virtually bare stage with suggested settings helped enormously by creative lighting, Tolin is telling us the fictional tale of a stage struck Alex More, a young unemployed actor, who finds himself taking on a day job as guard at an underground mall of specialty shops, on the estate of a very wealthy collector.
When he learns that the owner of the mall is none other than his adored Barbra Streisand, he is one happy camper. His partner, a struggling screen writer named Barry, considers the job cheapening, and he has a few choice words for Streisand as well.
We go to work each day with Alex, and share the thrill he experiences when his boss lady appears herself one day, and as time passes, she and he form what he thinks is a friendship. He is convinced of it when she invites him upstairs on a tour of her magnificent Malibu mansion. He is caught short when he discovers that may not be quite the label for what they have, but in fact they did have something going (a “good thing going” Stephen Sondheim might have called it), something that touched each of their lives.
Michael Urie plays Alex and continues to prove that he is a charming, resourceful and talented stage performer. In this play, he tackles Streisand, Barry and a number of lesser characters; his ability to play scenes with himself is remarkable, for we clearly see each character as they come tumbling out of him.
He first came to our attention as “Mark St. James”, assistant and gossip monger on “Ugly Betty” where he was a very funny bad guy. But subsequently, in The Temperamentals off-Broadway, he won himself Drama Desk and Theatre World Awards for his excellent work as one of the founders of the Mattachine Society.
In January 2012 he stepped into the role of “Bud Frump” in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business, and there he was, singing and dancing with tremendous ease and aplomb. Urie has unmistakable charm and charisma on stage. He is a resourceful actor, who can make his mobile face reflect what a sad soul might be feeling one minute, and then lighten up the next, always making his transitions seem organic. He listens, to his audience, and to himself.
When he has a playwright of Mr. Tolins’ talent, the two of them here create a memorable evening about a very real young man living out a fantasy in the tentative and scary real world he inhabits.
Buyer & Cellar is onstage thru May 12, 2013 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, NYC.
Details and tickets
Broadway performer, agent, writer, and now librettist, among his many accomplishments, Richard Seff has written the book for Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical!, which debuted at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is also author of Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stagecelebrating his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes, available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
- Richard Seff interviews Broadway luminaries:
- Carole Shelley
- Brian d’Arcy James
- Chita Rivera
- John Kander, With Complete Kander
Richard Seff chats with Joel Markowitz: