Fact: Barbra Streisand turned the basement of her expansive Malibu home into a shopping mall – more like a quaint, New England-style street of “shoppes” – to store her doll collection and other prized mementos. There’s a vintage clothing store. There’s a working soda fountain. She’s can do this because, well, she’s Barbra Streisand.
Fiction: Babs hired a chatty, chronically underemployed actor named Alex More to work as caretaker of the place, to live and lurk down there, and talk with her whenever she descends to visit her subterranean treasures.
The lines are delightfully blurred in Buyer & Cellar, Jonathan Tolins’ comedy for a single actor, opening Saturday at freeFall Theatre.
The single actor in this case is Orlando’s Chris Crawford, who’s been in seven previous freeFall productions and performed Buyer & Cellar at Actor’s Playhouse in Miami in 2016.
Crawford plays Alex – and six other characters, including the great lady herself. In a one-man show, he laughs, “You’re your own scene partner. It makes you feel crazy, but in the best way. Like you’re reacting, in the moment, to something you just gave yourself.”
The playwright makes sure the audience knows in the early, setup scenes that Alex – the main character – isn’t going to do a Streisand impersonation. “I’m just trying to give you her essence,” says Crawford. “I’ll just be her and you can fill in the rest.”
It’s snappy and it’s snarky, naturally, and it’s pretty much pure fantasy, but Crawford believes there’s something flesh-and-blood about Buyer & Cellar, too. “It ultimately culminates in the fact that this play is really about Alex finding out and embracing who he is. Falling in love with life and figuring out who he was put on this earth to be.
“That’s where the heart of the play comes in. And we get to see a lot of Barbra’s heart, too.”
Says director Timothy Saunders: “We definitely get to see Barbra as a human being during the play. And I think that’s essential. We’ve been very careful to make sure that this is not a play that makes fun of Barbra Streisand. I think it’s loving; it has to poke fun at her a little bit, but she pokes fun at herself! She’s a comedienne, and we often forget that.”
Saunders, who’s also freeFall’s dramaturg, explains that when he first read Buyer & Cellar, he knew Crawford – with whom he’d worked, as stage manager and in other capacities – had already been cast in the role. So he read it in Crawford’s voice. “And I thought ‘Yeah, I want to be in that room,’” he says.
It’s been a journey of discovery for the director. “I, like Alex in the play, was not much of a Barbra queen when we started,” Saunders says. “And I am now sort of falling in love with her. As a human, because the play is great about giving you two sides to her. I wanted to direct this and not get in Chris’ way, but lead him down some new pathways. And that’s absolutely what I think we’ve done.”
So freeFall’s take on Buyer & Cellar is somewhat re-imagined; it’s not the same version Crawford performed in Miami.
“Right off the bat, we started to tear those muscle memory things down and create a production that’s right for this theater and this audience,” Crawford explains. “And that is invaluable.
“That’s what a new director brings to the production. We’ve had luxury of me knowing the show, and so we’ve just been able to play. To have a fresh pair of eyes on a show that you’ve done before is just an amazing feeling.”
Tickets and info here.