Buyer and Cellar

Buyer and Cellar
By Jonathan Tolins. Ensemble Theatre, Sydney. Director: Susanna Dowling. 6 October – 12 November 2017

When the young gay man arrives on stage he assures us that “none of this is real”. What he has to say “could not possibly have happened with a person as famous, talented, and litigious as Barbra Streisand”. With lawyers thus at bay, Alex (played by Ben Gerrard) can let rip, which he does alone and hilariously at full tilt for the next hour and a half, under the direction of Susanna Dowling.

Not that Alex, or indeed US playwright Jonathon Tolins, wants to bury Ms Streisand under their withering scorn. She keeps her cool, emerging from a growing attachment to her unconventional friend with no loss of status, except perhaps as the writer of extravaganzas like ‘My Passion for Design’, the coffee-table book that lead Tolins to her Malibu mansion and its absurd underground shopping mall. Here Alex, an out-of-work actor, is employed as keeper and guide. “It was thrilling,” he tells us, “for a minute.” 

Soon however the boss lady pays a visit and Alex holds his own in imaginary tussles over the cost of a doll. She is delighted by his camp insistence on doing the right thing, and these two-person scenes are a triumph of Ben Gerrard’s easy mastery of the stage. Look right, it’s Alex improvising away: look left, it’s Streisand pleased with her plans, stray strands of hair covering her face.

I’m not sure what the set, designed by Charles Davis, is supposed to be. Is this Streisand’s house we’re in, with a chaise long and a table for the fleet-footed actor to avoid? And what’s with the obvious microphone attachment plugged into Gerrard’s left ear and reaching to his mouth? Is he taking directions from off-stage? 

But on opening night the audience were absolutely taken with Gerrard’s lively, funny, vibrant performance. He carried all before him.

Frank Hatherley

Photographer: Prudence Upton

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