AURORA | There are first-world problems, and then there’s the excess of Hollywood. A riff on Barbra Streisand and the surreal excess of American icons in the comedy, “Buyer and Cellar” at the John Hand Theater takes the audience down into the basement of the super-star and also America to shine a comical light on a nation that knows no excess too excessive.
The play by Jonathan Tolins is a one-man show about Alex More, a struggling California actor fired from his Disneyland job, essentially for making children cry. Broke, he then lands a job working for a mystery woman in Malibu, who turns out to be Barbra Streisand.
Played by Denver actor John Hauser, Alex’s job turns out to be the sole “employee” in a shopping mall Streisand had built in the basement of her sprawling California compound.
The show is a rushing-river of one-liners, quips, snips and eye-rolls that has the audience gasping for air more so than the superbly capable Hauser. This is a show built on tons and tons of funny dialogue rolling non-stop, downstage and up into the audience. Without Hauser’s timing, energy and endurance, the show would easily wither.
The first of two acts is a little rough. The author has Alex confusing everyone by focusing on the play and his monologue recollection as pure fiction, dwelling on it so long as to prompt wonder whether it really is or whether the threat of a Streisand suit hinges on this oddity or whether, out of some kind of sympathy, Tolins has some kind of pity for a woman he then enjoys roasting for the two-hour rollicking ride in her basement.
The second act makes up for any deficiencies earlier, and Hauser shines as the play gives shape to his many characters. He expertly suggests the diva rather than imitate her. The effect is both hugely satisfying and disappointing. The show focuses on the huge void between the world of haves and have-nots, making it a cartoon by focusing on a woman who virtually has it all, everywhere, anywhere and any time she wants, and the schlemiel who has next to nothing and knows it.
Predictably, both the rich and the poor have more in common than stereotypes make room for, and wealth doesn’t in the end dictate who’s in charge of whom. Rather than revel in the meme that we all have something going for us, Tolins points out that no matter how much wealth and stuff we accumulate, we all, equally, pretty much have nothing.
Since the comedy, and tension, in the show comes from Alex and Barbra toying with each other in this phantasmic basement, the subtlety makes you yearn from some hilarious Babs shtick early on. But the audience is more amused by the Alex’s gracious suggestions at the end.
Hauser is dead on throughout the show as “the lady of the house,” the overlord, the swishy, breathless boyfriend and especially for a few moments as James Brolin. Less defined was Alex himself, whose lines and motivations often betrayed his same ability to become a personality instead of just a character like everyone else in the show.
All that, however, doesn’t detract from Hauser’s ability to shine a light on a woman whose demand for perfection is taken to the outer limits of self-absorbed cruelty, and that fine line really isn’t very fine at all. Behind the smart quips is the reality that we both admire and despise people like Barbra’s character as a nation that has so much and just can’t ever have enough.
The audience leaves uncomfortable and confident that, like Barbra’s character in “Buyer,” we are all just one coat of new paint in the foyer away from total bliss, and that’s pretty sad.
Buyer and Cellar
Presented by Spotlight Theater Co. at the John Hand Theater 7653 E. First Place on Lowry
Through Nov. 11