Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Enthralling and Hilarious BUYER & CELLAR at Ensemble

     Ensemble Theatre has nailed a number of one-person shows over the years and it does so again with the hilarious and quietly unsettling Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins.  It demands a confident, strongly energetic performance to make it work.  Director Lynn Meyers smartly cast Nick Cearley, who maintains an almost laser-like focus built on a strong classical technique while performing six different parts with an effervescence that displays his joy onstage.  Brian c. Mehring’s set, lighting, and projections become presences – almost characters – in themselves and that lends another level to exploring the play’s themes.

The Book That
Inspired the Play
     Alex, the narrator, is an actor who finds himself unemployed because of an unfortunate incident at Disneyland.  He takes a very peculiar paid position, which doesn’t require acting per se until he decides to create a narrative for a doll that’s for sale.  I don’t want to say any more because I don’t want to spoil the story’s surprises.  Some audience members may know ahead of time that a very famous diva plays a major role in the proceedings.  The script hilariously starts off with a metaphysical note explaining that this is a fiction and that these are characters andt are not ‘real’ people.  True, but it’s the star-struck aspect of the story that will draw audiences in, as it does Alex, like a moth.

     Tolins points up the American addictions to celebrity gossip and rampant consumerism.  What does it mean when a person’s self-image trumps how they connect with other people?  Or is that the downside to stardom?  When a person’s possessions become a replacement for their experiences, what does that say about their humanity?  Meyers teases out that ambivalence without ever sacrificing the surface charm.  

Nick Cearley*
     Cearley has seemed glib in the past, but never here.  He can be elegant, fabulous, and flamboyant, but he’s always honest and he never repeats or wastes a gesture; it’s an incredibly crisp and intelligent performance and there wasn’t a moment where I was confused about which character he was playing.  As Tolins writes in his script, Alex won’t be impersonating a certain star.  Cearley suggests her, but goes deeper into showing the incandescent charisma and the crippling narcissism that fight to control her.

     Though Meyers paces the show perfectly and Cearley displays almost perfect pitch, it’s a one-person, one-act play that’s about ten minutes too long.  I don’t know what could be trimmed or cut and it won’t be since this is not the world premiere, but it’s the only cavil I have.
*Photo from ETC website

Buyer & Cellar runs through November 1. 2015.

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