What’s an actor to do if he’s understudied a roll for months and then has the show close without ever getting the chance to take the stage? Well, if you’re Patrick Varner – a former Santa Rosa resident and Montgomery High School grad, now based in Boston – you contact your old home-town theatre company and offer to do the show there. That’s how Buyer & Cellar ended up at 6th Street Playhouse, where it’s about to enter its closing weekend.
Playwright Jonathan Tolins used Barbra Streisand’s non-best selling coffee table book My Passion for Design as the jumping off point for his theatrical flight of fancy. Apparently, Streisand admits to constructing something of an underground mall below her Malibu home to store all her collectibles. Tolins whimsically explores what it might be like to be the one employee of said “mall” through the character of Alex More, a recently fired Disneyland character / actor wannabe searching for regular work.
Varner is a charming performer and more than holds the stage for this 90-minute one-man show. He plays More, as well as depictions of More’s boyfriend, a former boss, a Streisand assistant, James Brolin, and Babs herself. Note that I describe them as depictions, not impersonations, and Varner does a good job making them each a distinct characterization and finding the humor in all of them.
Performed in 6th Street’s Studio Theatre on a simple but effective set by Sam Tansleau, Director Sarah Muirhead keeps things clipping along at a good pace – it ran 87 minutes with no intermission at the matinee I attended. Varner also gets an assist through Ryan Severt’s visually interesting light design.
The show itself is theatrical ball of fluff, with no grand message to take away from it (though Tolins tries with a couple of maudlin moments of psycho-babble in attempting to explain Streisand’s “difficulty”), but what’s wrong with fluff? Sometimes folks just go to the theatre to be entertained, and Buyer & Cellar does entertain. One’s level of enjoyment may depend on one’s knowledge of Streisand, her career, her personality, her rabid fan base, and Los Angeles “culture”, but even with zero knowledge of any of that one is likely to find themselves captivated by Varner’s performance.
Buyer & Cellar was as pleasant a time I’ve spent at a mall in ages.
Buyer & Cellar
extended through February 26
Fri/ Sat @ 8pm, Sat/Sun @ 2pm
6th Street Playhouse
52 W 6th St
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Photos by Eric Chazankin