Diva on Detour (3 ½ stars)
Lucky Guy (3 ½ stars)
Buyer & Cellar (1 star)
Opera star Patricia Racette brought her dazzling soprano to 54 Below in Diva on Detour last month. Singing an eclectic program Racette needs to develop a deeper connection to her material, but her French homage to Edith Piaf was thrilling.
All you need to know about the late Nora Ephron’s bio-docu-drama about the late New York journalist Mike McAlary is that it stars Tom Hanks. In his Broadway debut, Hanks is terrific, as is the rest of a top-notch cast in an entertaining production of a tepid play that’s been slickly directed by George C. Wolfe.
It’s hard to understand what prompted Jonathan Tolins (Queer as Folk) to write Buyer & Cellar, a 90-minute monologue about a fictional actor hired to work in Barbra Streisand’s basement. Your reaction to Tolins’ imagined scenario will undoubtedly be proportional to how big a Streisand fan you are, with detractors reveling in its insults and diehard fans aghast at its cruelty. The premise, of course, is beyond absurd, even if you have only a passing knowledge of Streisand’s life and career. Tolins uses the publication of Streisand’s 2010 coffee-table book about the construction of her Malibu home, My Passion For Design, as an excuse (some would say vendetta) to fabricate a play where she employs an actor, the excellent Michael Urie, to work in the basement she’s transformed into a ‘main street of shops’ filled with a lifetime’s worth of costumes, dolls, memorabilia and antiques. So why does she need an actor to work in the shops? For some unknown reason, Tolins imagines Streisand to be so pathetic and narcissistic that she’ll want someone to wait on her when she goes ‘shopping’ amidst her own treasures. Urie gets laughs portraying both the actor and Streisand in their imagined encounters, but is Tolins’ conceit really fodder for a play?
As it turns out, no as Buyer & Cellar is bi-polar: one minute Tolins dishes out adulation and reverence, the next minute ridicule and disdain. But ultimately it’s just one joke and, quite frankly, a celebrity like Barbra Streisand is too easy a target for Tolins’ brand of meanness. To be sure, there are moments of sympathy and insight. But any pathos is generated by Urie’s acting and not Tolins’ writing. To Tolins’ discredit, Buyer & Cellar comes off as axe grinding at the expense of a celebrity who can’t defend herself. Of course, an artist of Streisand’s accomplishments doesn’t need defending. But she also doesn’t need vilifying either, especially by an out playwright who should know better.