There’s one great reason to see Lyric Theatre of Greater Boston’s one-act, one-man, almost two-hour play, “Buyer and Cellar” - Phil Tayler.
The versatile Boston actor has previously won accolades from critics and audiences, portraying vivid characters in dramatic plays, musicals, comedies, and shines even brighter at Lyric Theatre. Jonathan Tolins’ play isn’t anything special - not really. But it’s a marvelous forum for Tayler, as he transforms, without props, costume changes or other accoutrements, from narrator Alex More to Streisand and other roles.
Alex is a likable, gay actor from Los Angeles, who’s unemployed, but lands an ideal, surreal job - the sole employee of the Great Mall of Malibu, a.k.a. Barbra Streisand’s basement, shopping mall, arranged with shops containing antiques, dolls, popcorn and frozen yogurt machines, costumes, and more. Alex’s job is easy, given he has only one customer - la` Streisand herself.
Directed by Courtney O’Connor, ensconced on Anthony R. Phelps‘ handsomely decorated set, Tayler makes lots of eye contact. directly addressing nearby theatergoers throughout the non-stop play.
The audience surrounds Tayler on three sides, with some people almost on the stage. Nothing distracts him, despite his proximity and frequent ad lib interaction with theatergoers.
Tayler has amazing concentration, especially when a front-row woman’s cell phone repeatedly rang loudly, several times, over and over again. She didn’t attempt to shut it, either, ignoring Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos’ introductory, strong, warning against ringing, beeping, or loud electronics. Surprisingly, theater staff didn’t attempt to remove the offending theatergoer. After awhile, she walked out.
From the beginning, he warns us, up front, in no uncertain terms, this story isn’t true. “This is a work of fiction. I’m an actor. The writer only met her once. I don’t do her - no impressions,” he warns. “None of this is real. The conversation never took place. It never happened,” he stresses. It’s made up. But it’s a fanciful fantasy, based on Streisand and the playwright’s impression of her after one brief meeting. Tayler has Streisand’s coffee table book, “My Passion for Design,” on hand, which he initially refers to, asking a woman in the front row to hold it.
The mall in Streisand’s basement? “That’s real,” he adds.
Tayler’s affectation of Streisand herself is superb, from his facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice, and posturing. He’s riotous, when he transitions to his boyfriend, Barry, who’s obviously jealous of the Hollywood diva and Alex’s interactions with her. Tayler also portrays legendary directors, actors, Streisand’s house manager, and Streisand’s handsome actor husband, James Brolin.
Besides Taylers’ comedic portrayals, Tolins offers insight into the elusive Streisand’s personality - her youth and struggle to the top, paparazzis’ constant pursuit, her avoidance of them, and fame’s accompanying loneliness.
Tayler garners applause during a scene where Streisand comes to “shop,” spies an antique French doll she wants to “buy” for a certain price, but is taken aback when Alex demands a higher price and refuses to yield to her, winning that bargaining round. Barbara’s triumphal comeback bargain is even funnier. Yes, the play’s a little long. Yes, it’s not authentic. But Tayler’s performance is worth the price of admission.
BOX INFO: Boston premiere of one-act play by Jonathan Tolins, appearing through Jan. 3,2016,at Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Boston. Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, Dec. 22,29, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m,; Sunday, 3 p.m.; Wednesday, Dec. 30, also at 2 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 27, at 3,7:30 p.m.Post-show Q&A, Dec. 20. Tickets start at $25; student, senior discounts. Visit www.lyricstage.com.