Buyer & Cellar, by Jonathan Tolins. Directed by Steve Stettler. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"Keep it on hold. . .I'll be back!"
Kyle Branzel as Alex More as Barbra Streisand; photo: provided
You don't often see a play about attitude, but Jonathan Tolins one-man play about an out of work actor and Barbra Streisand is just that. According to an entry in the actress's book on design, says the narrator of this play, she has a barn on her Malibu property, a familiar looking one, that has a basement built to resemble a California shopping mall in which she keeps thousands of her own possessions on view for visitors to see - but she is the only visitor.
The actor here, Kyle Branzel, begins by acquainting us with the book and telling us that nothng in the play is real, is true. Instead, he maintains, the only facts are the historical ones and we have to guess which ones are those. He then becomes another actor, Alex More, who has the adventure that is explored in the play about a friendship that develops between Alex and Barbra. As absurd as it all truly is, it becomes much more real than the framework story. Alex becomes more real than Kyle and Streisand becomes his willing partner in the story Kyle is telling. If this becomes confusing, well, it should. The comedy is a play about the bluffs we face in life, real relationships and those imagined.
Alex has a boyfriend named Barry, Jewish and more a faggot than our hero. He is always on the attack whether it be personal, sexual, professional or sardonic. Alex has an employer, a woman who regards him as slightly less important than a lint brush. He also has a former employer whose attitudes fluctuate with the tides of need. Kyle plays all of the characters in this show and each has his or her own resonance and reality. Each is well defined by either a look or a stance or a voice-tone.
Kyle Branzel; photo: provided
Kyle has a delicious old time playing all of these people and not - he assures us - doing impressions of them for almost all of them are figments of the playwright's imagination. His Streisand personna, however, is implied through a Brooklyn accent, a left hand that maneuvers his sweater, a vague look, and not through her voice or vocal impact. For Barry, the bad, bad boyfriend, he brings us a man whose gruffness is everything, his mean attitude everything else. And so it goes. His best character is Alex More, the actor who ends up as Streisand's employee, friend and role coach.
The transitions he puts Alex through are marvels, each and every one. Through the close scrutiny of director Steve Stettler, Kyle's Alex manages to convince and convey with almost immortal intent the spirit of the great superstar whose only friend is herself and who cannot remain aloof even if she is only acting a role, self-created for the occasion. Similarly we become much more cognizant of Alex's journey through the oddness of great celebrity whenever he becomes the primary character, stealing the scene from the great scene-stealer herself.
Stettler and his designers, Brian Dudkiewicz for set and Amith Chandrashaker for lights have created a peculiar space, with furniture, where Alex's story is underscored with colors that shift, change and register emotional impact when the narrative can only be just so poignant.
This is a tricky play. The actor at the center is not the actor on stage but is a character instead. That character, in turn, is a host of other characters. Often the real actor is playing the story actor and other characters all at the same time. That we never, for an instant, mistake one personality for another is where a really great actor exists. Kyle Branzel is a resourceful and remarkable interpreter of all of the roles thrown his way. He manipulates dialogues and verbal spats and the attitudes taken by so many people, real and not real, so very well that the play could be renamed in his honor: "Kyle, Examined," or "Kyle, Exposed," or "Kyle, Revealed," or something like that.
As a person who ordinarily dislikes one-man shows, this one is unique in its creation: an actor who dislikes the premise under which he is performing but who manages to do it all better than a slew of actors could, each one taking a single role. I applaud the actor heartily here. I applaud the author for giving us a unique situation within a situation. I applaud the company for presenting such a curious work and its director for keeping it constantly fresh and engaging. I applaud, to put it mildly, the work on stage in Weston, Vermont, for everything it does so very well indeed.
Buyer & Cellar plays at the Weston Rod & Gun Club on Route 100 in Weston, Vermont through September 3. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-824-5288 or go on line at westonplayhouse.org.