There’s not much to it, but Jonathan Tolins’ “Buyer & Cellar” certainly qualifies as witty entertainment.
This cleverly structured one-actor show onstage at the Unicorn Theatre provides a showcase for the talents of Seth Golay, one of the city’s best actors, especially when it comes to light comedy.
Golay plays Alex More, an underemployed actor in Los Angeles who gets a curious job offer: to be the “sales staff” at the underground mall on Barbra Streisand’s estate in Malibu. As Tolin, through the character, explains to the audience in his eye-twinkling post-modern introduction, More isn’t real, but the mall is.
Indeed, Streisand documented its existence in her 2010 coffee table book, “My Passion for Design,” which figures importantly into the show. The mall includes “shoppes” for her antique doll collection as well as gowns she wore in films or live performances.
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So the play is an extended “what if” joke based on an amusing supposition: What if the self-involved star actually hired someone so that Babs would have an employee to interact with when she chose to descend the stairs to admire her gowns and dolls or to be served from the yogurt machine in the Sweet Shoppe.
Golay plays multiple roles with impressive flexibility as he repeatedly shifts gears without missing a beat. He evokes Streisand without doing an actual impersonation, and he makes Alex’s boyfriend, Barry, a struggling screenwriter who actually becomes jealous of Streisand, particularly vivid. Actor James Brolin, Streisand’s husband, makes a cameo appearance. Golay also plays Sharon, Streisand’s perpetually exasperated assistant.
Golay and director Darren Sextro aim for emotional believability, which the actor achieves with seeming ease. A memorable sequence depicts Streisand slipping into the role of a “shopper” and haggling with Alex over the imaginary purchase of an antique doll — which, of course, she already owns. Golay plays both characters alternately with amazing clarity.
Despite an escalating level of absurd humor, none of the events depicted seems all that implausible. And there is a flicker of substance as the playwright poses gentle questions about the nature of loneliness, the cost of celebrity, star-worship and the need for a steady emotional foundation to support a successful relationship.
Golay enunciates those themes with such skill that he creates indelible images in what can only be described as an exceptional performance.