By Tanya Gazdik
You've got to really like someone to spend nearly two solid hours with them talking to you. Thankfully, Richard Payton is instantly likeable in the latest production at The Ringwald, "Buyer & Cellar," in which he does just that. The one-act comedy by Jonathan Tolins features Payton as the one and only character, Alex, who chronicles his experience working for Barbra Streisand.
The play opens with Alex walking onto the simple set, which includes two elegant wingback chairs and a phonographic turntable. Payton flashes his million-dollar smile and the audience instantly falls in love with him and his character. He goes to the turntable and plays the instantly recognizable theme song from the move "The Way We Were." After Barbra croons the opening two lines, the music fades and Alex begins to relate the captivating story of how he ended up working for Streisand. He goes into long form detail about what the megastar was like as a boss, and semi-friend.
The premise: Alex is an underemployed Los Angeles actor who worked in Barbra Streisand's Malibu basement–aka her own private shopping mall–where she stored (ok, hoarded) all of her acquisitions. Although the beginning of the play's script includes disclaimers that none of what Alex claims is true, it's hard not to wonder throughout the performance if some of it isn't based in reality. Indeed, author Jonathan Tolins says he got the idea for the play from Streisand's descriptions in her own book, "My Passion For Design," about the personal mall. Anyone with even the slightest affinity for Streisand will understand the jokes and references about the star, whose love-bordering-on-worship by the gay community is rivaled only by that for Judy Garland.
Payton, who confesses to being influenced greatly by Streisand, could not be more perfect for the role of Alex. He's adorable and his comedic timing is perfect. During the opening night performance, he wasn't afraid to improv a little dialogue based on the hilarious reaction from an audience member to one of the witticisms.
The physicality of a nearly two-hour long one-man performance with no intermission cannot be denied. Hats off to Payton for never showing a single sign of fatigue. Despite his energy and commitment, the play does drag a little at the end and would have benefited from some editing/tightening to shave off some time. That said, the audience ate it up and not a single joke fell flat. Even those indifferent to the mega-famous Babs will find something to giggle about in the absurdity of her ultra-rich lifestyle.
Originally published on http://www.encoremichigan.com. Visit Encore Michigan for more theater coverage, reviews and more.