“Buyer & Cellar” imagines a young man hired to care for Barbra Streisand’s basement mall in her home, and the adventures and misadventures that ensue. Eric Love, a New York actor who began his “Vermont career” at Montpelier’s Lost Nation Theater, plays Alex in the Northern Stage production, as well as several other characters including Streisand.
“It’s amazing working with Eric,” says Maggie Burrows, who is directing. “He just has such a bright, positive attitude in the room that it makes it a delight to play around with this play, which has so much room for theatricality and experimentation.”
Northern Stage will present Jonathan Tolins’ one-man comedy Feb. 27-March 17 at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. A complimentary post-show reception with the company follows the March 2 opening night performance. Optional post-show conversations will follow the evening performances Saturday and Sunday, March 9 and 10.
“Buyer & Cellar” premiered at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York City on April 2, 2013, moving off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre June 24, 2013, and closing in 2014.
Streisand, in fact, constructed a series of storefronts beneath her Malibu barn inspired by the Winterthur Museum in Delaware to house her collection of dolls and other trinkets. The comedy imagines that Alex More, a struggling gay actor out of work after being fired from his job at Disneyland, is hired to curate the basement museum.
Alex doesn’t meet Barbra at first, but when he does a very strange relationship ensues, one that questions his values. This fantastic story is told by Alex to his screenwriter boyfriend, Barry.
“It’s a well-constructed story where the protagonist is learning something that he doesn’t know at the beginning of the story,” Burrows said recently by phone. “And he’s seduced by something lots of people can relate to, which is fame, the like of which is achieved by Barbra Streisand.”
Burrows, Northern Stage’s inaugural BOLD resident director, previously directed “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” “Mad Love” and “Fox on the Fairway” for the company. On Broadway, she was associate director for “My Fair Lady” and “Sylvia.”
“Working with Eric, part of what we’re discovering is that you really need to treat each of those characters with their own intentions, their own actions, what do they want from the other person, even though it’s the same actor playing both characters,” Burrows said.
Love has previously appeared in Northern Stage’s “Our Town” and “A Christmas Carol.” He also directed this season’s holiday production of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda The Musical,” featuring many students from the company’s educational programs, which he directs.
Since Love came to Northern Stage in 2015, the company’s education and artistic outreach programming has grown dramatically. The Youth Ensemble Studio (YES) has quadrupled in size, the Summer Musical Theater Intensive is now by-audition and sees sold-out houses, and Boot Camp offers professional training and college preparation to students who want to pursue a career in theater.
Love came to Lost Nation Theater first, appearing in many shows, including starring in Becky Mode’s one-man tour de force, “Fully Committed,” about the travails of the booking representative at a fashionable restaurant. Love made his directorial debut there with Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice” in 2015, and is scheduled to direct Margo Whitcomb in “Shakespeare’s Will” by Vern Thiessen, Sept. 5-15.
In preparing for this “Buyer & Cellar,” Love went around to area homes and performed the play because he wanted to feel he was telling a story to a friend. In that same vein, Burrows kept the staging ultra-simple.
There will simply be a platform and a wall behind for projections, as well as a chandelier.
“It sort of looms over the scene and behaves in a subtle way, when Barbra is present and when she’s not present,” Burrows says. “It sort of represents her presence, her elegance, her style, the size and scope of her influence in the world — and in Alex’s life.”
Behind it all, as Alex tells it, “the premise is preposterous.”
“It’s a story about people remembering what’s important. It’s a story about the pitfalls of fame,” Burrows said. “It’s a story about what’s big and what’s small. You might think that your tiny apartment and tiny life is small but it’s actually the inverse. One of the things I love about it is the way it ends. He manages to take some positive things from Barbra, rather than having been seduced with her, and gets in touch with his real relationship.”