Streisand-centric ‘Buyer & Cellar’ delights at Florida Studio Theatre

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Before she was watching HBO documentaries to craft controversies of her own, film and stage superstar Barbra Streisand was generating another type of headline: for her interior design.

That’s because Streisand—the only artist to receive Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Directors Guild of America, Golden Globe, National Endowment for the Arts and Peabody awards—has a mall in the basement of her Malibu mansion. “Instead of just storing my things in the basement,” the diva detailed to Harper’s Bazaar in 2010, “I can make a street of shops and display them.”

The collection of shops—old-fashioned storefronts containing her favorite dolls, dresses and more—is also highlighted in “My Passion for Design,” Streisand’s book. Published in the same year, it celebrates “the architecture and construction of her newest homes … a culmination and reflection of her love of American architecture and design between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.”

The book and basement were enough to fascinate fans worldwide, including playwright Jonathan Tolins. It led the author to pen “Buyer & Cellar,” an award-winning, one-man show and one of the most-produced plays of the 2015-2016 theatrical season. It’s still captivating audiences nationwide, including at the Florida Studio Theatre (FST) in Sarasota now through April 14.

“Buyer & Cellar” is “a quirky comedy about the price of fame, the cost of things and the oddest of jobs,” FST official describes the piece. It tells the story of Alex More, an openly gay and struggling actor recently fired from portraying Disneyland’s Mayor of Toontown. After losing his job, he accepts “an even more unusual gig: working in the Malibu basement mini-mall of a celebrated megastar.”

“There is fiction and there is truth in this play,” lead and sole actor Remy Germinario explains. “The truth of it is that Barbra Streisand came out with the book in 2010, and in it she describes how she designs her home in Malibu. It’s absolutely ridiculous in the best way. Jonathan Tolins, an incredible playwright, became obsessed with this basement mall and the idea of someone having to work in it.”

The fiction begins there. “Alex More ends up getting that job,” Germinario says. “It’s a hilarious and poignant play that explores and contrasts humans’ connection to material items and other humans.”

Germinario knows the show and role well, having portrayed More in two previous productions. It’s among the many reasons “Buyer & Cellar” Director Catherine Randazzo sought the actor.

“It takes a lot to get a one man show up on its feet the first time,” Randazzo explains. “Memorization is time consuming and you sometimes don’t get to delve into the fine, intricate details. The timing and comedy are so important in this piece and Remy’s also a standup comedian, so he had two things going for him. He was the right person, he was the right fit and we worked together as a great team.”

Germinario says that each of his “Buyer & Cellar” experiences have been amazing, but Randazzo’s involvement adds another layer of depth. “I’ve obviously done a lot of research for this show but I can’t beat Catherine,” he says. “She’s such a big Barbra fan. She’s given me so many great tips about Barbra that have enlightened my impression of her and helped with the story in general. The more and more you do something, the more you connect to the material.”

While More is the show’s central character, Germinario is also tasked with bringing others to life. He offers his interpretations of other characters throughout the show, including Streisand. “In the plot I do have conversations with other people,” he says, “like Barbra. While I don’t switch costumes I do switch positions, turn out to different angles and switch back and forth. I think that’s what makes the play so fun, because it’s all from a male point of view.

“It’s entertaining to see one person do that,” Germinario continues. “Catherine has continued to help me with big personalities. Alex is the neutral one and when you switch to others you come up with a different physicality or voice so that the audience immediately knows this isn’t Alex now. The goal is to make you forget that there’s just one person up there.”

Randazzo says Germinario excels at it. “Not only is it a one man show where he’s playing all of the characters,” she says, “but it’s also an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. If you can hold an audience’s attention with the combination of things happening in this art form—between the writing, casting and production elements—that’s amazing.”

The director adds that the audience becomes its own character in the production for that reason. “My joy is watching them laugh,” she says, “and seeing Remy digest it to bring it back to them and let them know he’s listening. He sees them respond to what he’s doing and that whole process is energetic. It gives you chills—it’s comedy, but there are still chilling moments when you look at how everyone experiences this together.”

“It’s collaborative,” Germinario confirms. “I absolutely love this show.”

The duo brings an unparalleled authenticity to the production, the actor adds. “We’re both gay, we’re out, and I think bringing a queer perspective—especially to a story about Barbra Streisand who is such a gay icon in the ranks of Liza Minelli, Carol Channing, Judy Garland and all of these people—I think that makes it so special,” Germinario says.

Randazzo once asked him if the show would work as well if its lead character were straight. He doesn’t believe it would, he says, “because of Barbra Streisand’s gay following and because we don’t need to see a straight man’s perspective on this. I don’t even feel like I’m acting because I feel like Alex More is me; I feel like Jonathan Tolins wrote him the way that I talk and I relate to what he goes through with his boyfriend. I’ve never connected to a show as much as I do ‘Buyer & Cellar.’”

Audiences can connect to it as well. “It’s a comical journey and they get to see some poignant and interesting moments,” Randazzo says. “It’s universal in its way and approached in a comical tone—it’s unique and endearing.”

“Buyer & Cellar” by Jonathan Tolins runs now through April 14 in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at 941-366-9000 or FloridaStudioTheatre.org.

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