Saturday, January 16, 2016

Buyer and Cellar

Playwright:  Jonathan Tolins
Venue:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street. Colorado Springs CO.

Running Time:  1 hours 15 minutes (no intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Friday, January 15, 2016.  (Opening night.  Colorado Premiere.)

The description of Buyer and Cellar on the Fine Arts Center webpage (clipped from a New York Times review) doesn’t do it justice:

“Jonathan Tolins has concocted an irresistible one-man play from the most peculiar of fictitious premises — an underemployed Los Angeles actor goes to work in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu, Calif., basement. This seriously funny slice of absurdist whimsy creates the illusion of a stage filled with multiple people, all of them with their own droll point of view.”

Trust me.  While this description is accurate, it doesn’t even begin to convey how utterly brilliant the script, the performance, and the entire FAC production are.  Buyer and Cellar is one of those rare occasions where a new work comes out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning on a clear summer day.

Buyer and Cellar is unquestionably a comedy, and in that regard it is a spectacular success.  The story is a funny celebrity fantasy, and the humor is contagious.  

However, Buyer and Cellar is not just a comedy.  It also works as a social commentary, exploring the gap between the wealthy and those who can barely scrape by.  It reminds us that loneliness isn’t cured by success.  And it wraps those lessons up in a charming and extremely funny premise:  Alex Moore, a gay actor looking for his next gig, gets hired to be a curator for the items in Barbra Striesand’s basement.  One doesn’t usually expect a comedy to explore our values, but Buyer and Cellar is both profound and profoundly funny at once.

Sammy Gleason as Alex Moore.

This is a one man show, and that man is Sammy Gleason.  His resume confirms that he is highly qualified to do comedy.  What surprised me about his performance was how well he could also convey the drama, the conflict, and the subtle sadness of this story.  Gleason doesn’t just get laughs.  His nuanced performance blends humor and heartache in equal measure, making Buyer and Cellar much more than a funny sketch.  Gleason makes it a compelling statement about our values, or the lack thereof.

Buyer and Cellar works very well, and that is largely due to Gleason’s non-verbal skills.  He has mastered the effeminate gestures and mannerisms that show he’s gay long before he tells us.  He does an absolutely fabulous but silent take on Bea Arthur, and it's a show stopper.  

Gleason takes a very simple set (white sofa, white chair, white table with a vase of white flowers, and a white picture frame hanging upstage against a black background) and turns it into Barbra Striesand’s basement.  No.  Really.  We can almost see the details as Gleason tells us all about her elaborate furnishings  

Of course, there is no Barbra on the stage, so Gleason plays her, and other characters, as he has conversations with himself as Streisand or his friend Barry.  Gleason seamlessly shifts between characters, having long detailed conversations with himself and his imaginary friends.  It is truly a wonder to see Gleason slide back and forth between characters with such ease.  The basement, the furnishings, and Barbra, Barry, Bea and Sharon are all imaginary, but Gleason makes us see them through his eyes.

Director Cory Moosman sets a furious pace for his actor, but still allows for appropriate pauses for comedic and dramatic effect.  Moosman has incorporated a number of sound effects, from a shopkeeper bell to announce visitors to the sound of a smartphone sending a text.  Those sound effects lend a credible sense of reality to the imaginary story Moosman is telling.  Although the lighting system in The Music Room is hardly state of theart, Moosman makes marvelous use of it to convey the time of day in the imaginary basement.

I saw Buyer and Cellar on opening night, and there were a couple of small glitches that did not distract in the slightest from the brilliance of the entire experience.  It’s only the third week of January, but it’s clear to me that Buyer and Cellar is going to be one of the premiere theater events of 2016 in Colorado Springs.  

The run is too short; just two weekends.  It’s not on the Main Stage; Buyer and Cellar is playing in The Music Room on the second floor (there is elevator access).  It’s a small, intimate venue, perfect for Buyer and Cellar, but only seating about 90 at a time.  Two weekends is not enough.  This is a show that deserves an open ended run so everyone can see it.  It’s that good.  

Live theater is a fleeting art form.  It arrives, it comes alive, and then it evaporates forever when the show is over.  You have a limited opportunity to see Sammy Gleason shine in what may be the best show you will see this year.  Don’t miss it.


I’m going to go a little off subject here, because I menitoned above that Buyer and Cellar addresses our values.  There are some in this community who would be offended by Alex Moore’s “values” because he is gay.  For those who cannot get past that issue, I recommend that you do not buy a ticket.  You will miss the point.  The values conflict here is not about Alex Moore’s sexuality.  It is about wealth, fame, and how material goods are immaterial to happiness.  

This show is suitable for all ages.

There is ample free parking in the lot across the street, and on surrounding streets. Concessions are available and can be consumed in the theater.


Pre/Post Show Dining Recommendation:
Monte Cristo sandwich/crepe.
It’s only a five minute drive from the theater, but you’ll need to plan some extra time to find parking for Coquette’s Gluten Free Restaurant at 321 N. Tejon in Colorado Springs.    (Downtown parking is notoriously limited.)  Coquette’s is 100% gluten free, and although neither Roxie nor I have a gluten dietary restriction, we wanted to check it out for our friends/family who do.  

The menu is extensive, and includes some surprising choices.  I had the Monte Cristo sandwich; Roxie had the Monte Cristo crepe.  Both were delicioius, and for my money, indistinguishable from their gluten loaded versions.  Mother and daughter proprietors Michellle and Turu both have backgrounds in entertainment.  When I mentioned that we had tickets for a show at the Fine Arts Center, our waitress made sure our table was cleared and the check delivered right away.  


Director:  Cory Moosman

Stage Manager:  Terri Harrison


Alex Moore:  Sammy Gleason

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