by Lynn on November 19, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Red face of furyAt the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Set by Andrew Boyce
Costumes by Jessica Pabst
Lighting by Eric Southern
Sound by Stowe Nelson
Starring Christopher J. Hanke

Awful in a life-shortening sort of way.

The Story. Alex Moore is an out of work actor in Los Angeles. He was fired from his job as a cartoon character wearing a fluffy costume at Disneyland for saying something inappropriate to a smarmy kid—something about shoving something edible up something not meant for the consumption of food. He lucked into a job as the custodian of a huge collection of stuff of a Hollywood icon, living in Malibu. At the interview he still did not know who his employer was. When he got the job he found out—Barbra Streisand.

Streisand had accumulated so much stuff, knickknacks, dolls, figurines, appliances etc. that instead of just shoving them all in ‘the basement’, she created a mall of stores in the basement of the renovated barn on her huge estate in Malibu, to house them all. Each store is dedicated to house a particular collection of items. For example there is a doll that factors heavily in the story and that’s in the doll store. Alex’s job is to dust the collection in each store and see that it is kept in pristine condition on the off-chance that ‘she’ might appear.
‘She’ does appear one day. Alex is brimming with excitement ready for the experience. She meets him in the doll store and wants to buy one of the items there. He, up for the game, tells her the price (as I recall it’s about $850). She offers him $500. He stands his ground. And so goes the game.

Streisand makes frequent visits to the mall. Alex is ready. A kind of friendship develops. Alex is charmed and flattered. His boyfriend Barry, a screenwriter, is cynical about the whole business. Something happens and the whole relationship changes abruptly.

The Production.
The set by Andrew Boyce is stylish white. There is a white table and chair stage right. On the table is a white tea pot and two cups and saucers. A white bench is stage left. Occasionally during the play projections indicating the mall and stores will flash on the back again, in a pale hue.

As Alex Moore, Christopher J. Hanke sits at the side of the stage to set the scene. He’s boyish, clean-cut, enthusiastic. He clutches a large coffee table book, My Passion for Design, written and photographed by Barbra Streisand. He says he will ‘play’ her but not impersonate her. He leaves that to the many others who do impersonate her. He frequently indicates people in the audience who seem to get his jokes.

Hanke can float a sarcastic line with ease about those many men and a few women who ‘do’ Barbra. Initially the conversation fluctuates between Alex’s enthusiasm when recounting getting the job at the house in Malibu and learning who his boss would be and bitchy remarks when he’s less than enthusiastic. We surmise that he no longer has the job and thus cause for more pointed comments.

Hanke as Alex as he ‘plays’ Streisand is interesting. He plays her almost posing as she seems to lean back and give Alex the once over; as she flicks strands of imaginary hair out of the way and flutters those impossibly long talon-nailed-fingers at him for effect.

When she wants to buy one of the dolls but won’t pay full-price, the give and take between Alex and Streisand has a certain, if thin, charm. A kind of closer relationship, friendship if you will develops, at least to Alex it does. In a quiet moment he asks her that since she can buy anything, is there one thing she ever wanted but didn’t have. She says quietly: “To be pretty.” She says that she was always told either by her mother or her step-father that she wasn’t pretty. It’s a touching moment until Alex tells this to his boyfriend Barry who rips the sentiment to shreds with his cynical sarcasm. He says that Streisand has been on the cover of every fashion magazine in the world and if she wanted to, could change her look. She obviously doesn’t want to. While Alex feels that Streisand is really his friend, again Barry challenges this delusion with some pointed comments. Eventually Alex figures it out for himself as well.

Comment. Why did I loath this? Lemme count the ways. I loathed it because it plays on stereotypes from top to bottom. Not only has playwright Jonathan Tolins written Alex as the stereotypical gay man who naturally has to love Barbra Streisand (I don’t county Barry in this as he seems to be cynical about everything), but Tolins also has written Streisand stereotypically. She is self-absorbed, phony, manipulative, shallow, who might be passionate about design but seems lacking in real taste. And everything in her dealings with people seems contrived—the sad story of wanting to be pretty when it’s obvious she’s more interested in being quirky and commanding than anything else.

I loathed it because there is almost not one genuine moment in the show. Stephen Brackett has directed even the so called ad-libs to within an inch of their lives: from the sidelong looks to certain people in the audience who supposedly get a joke, to Alex’s doubling over with laughter at his own brilliance, it’s fake, phony and obvious. The pace lags which brings the whole thing down. The exception to the wretched disingenuousness is that one speech by Barry who puts things in perspective about Streisand wanting to be pretty and Alex thinking she was his friend.

I loathe it because it’s mean-spirited, condescending, and snide. In a word, feh.

Presented by Mirvish Productions:

Opened: Nov. 13, 2014
Closes: Nov. 30, 2014
Cast: 1 actor
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jessica Goldman November 19, 2014 at 9:54 am

Oh how I wish I saw this with you!! And oh how I wish I used “snide” more often in my reviews. SUCH a good word. Will be stealing/using that, thank you.