Seattle Repertory Theatre’s “Buyer & Cellar”: Beyond the Theatre

    – posted by David W.

The Seattle Repertory Theater’s current production of Jonathan Tolins’ hilarious one-man show Buyer & Cellar has been getting great reviews. The show, which envisions the curious professional and personal life of a man hired to staff a quaint shopping mall that actually exists in the basement of Barbra Streisand’s palatial Malibu estate, all started – as so many great things do – with a library book. 

My Passion for DesignIn 2010, his husband checked out a copy of Barbra Streisand’s new coffee table book My Passion for DesignTolins was wowed by the copious photographs of Barbra’s lavish home, but was particularly impressed by the cobblestone-lined faux street of shops in her basement, created to house her various collections. “How’d you like to be the guy who has to work down there?” he quipped. The rest is history.

As original as the premise of Buyer & Cellar may be, is isn’t without precedent. Stephen Sondheim’s 1966 musical Evening Primrose, inspired by a story of that name in John Collier’s 1951 collection Fancies and Goodnightstells of a young man who runs away from the world to live in a department store, only to find it is already populated with a strange nocturnal group of forgotten people, hiding amidst the merchandise and mannequins. Even if you’ve never heard of the show, you’re probably familiar with the haunting song I Remember; the song was even featured on Streisand’s album Christmas Memories.

Part of the show’s appeal hinges on our fascination with the lives and excesses of the rich and famous, as also seen in the surreal and riveting The Queen of Versailles, which starts off as a documentary about the construction of David and Jackie Siegel’s 90,000 square foot Florida mansion but takes an unexpected turn when the billionaire couple’s finances falter. Eccentric copper heiress Huguette Clark used her great wealth to build mansions to house her doll collection, as depicted in Bill Dedman’s fascinating book Empty Mansions.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and struggling actors will do some truly odd things to pay the bills. Snellings’ amusing, offbeat memoir Box Girl: My Part Time Job as an Art Installation, muses on her adventuresome life as a young writer/model/waitress/actress, and the evenings she spent as an objet d’art inhabiting a glass box in a Hollywood hotel lobby. Another young actress struggling to break into show business while paying off student loans, Jayne Larson turned to limousine driving to pay the bills. Then along came a prolonged assignment Driving the Saudis that would lead her to reassess her role in the workplace, and in the world. Larson offers a thoughtful and intriguing look at her extended stint amidst the retinue of visiting Saudi royalty.

You’ll find other interesting angles on Buyer & Cellar, and some great books about Barbra, here in our catalog.

One thought on “Seattle Repertory Theatre’s “Buyer & Cellar”: Beyond the Theatre”

  1. This reminds me of my childhood fascination with Richard Peck’s (out of print and quite understandably no longer owned by SPL) novel Secrets of The Shopping Mall and harboring fantasies about living in the Bon:

    Trying to escape the vicious King Kobra gang and troubled life at home, eighth graders Barnie and Teresa flee the city. With only four dollars between them, they hop a bus, hoping to find a new life at the end of the line. Destination: Paradise Park. But Paradise Park turns out to be a cement-covered suburban shopping mall–not quite the paradise they had hoped for.
    With no money and no home to return to, they are forced to stay. And paradise park takes them in–in more ways than one. Barnie and Teresa spend their days and nights in the climate-controlled consumer paradise of a large department store. And just when they think they can live there unnoticed forever, Teresa and Barnie find that even Paradise Park has its secrets. Even in the dead of night, they are far from alone….

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