The latest production at Richmond Triangle Players’ starts out curiously insisting that the audience understand that nothing enacted onstage during “Buyer and Cellar” really happened, that actor Daniel Cimo is just that, an actor, who never in fact worked for Barbra Streisand.
Though the fourth-wall breaking conceit is explained as a way to avoid the litigious wrath of the famous diva, it ends up being the perfect opening to this winning and weird down-the-rabbit-hole adventure penned by “Twilight of the Golds” scribe Jonathan Tolins. It makes the 100% true part of the story – that Ms. Streisand has an underground mall at her home with shops filled with her own dresses, dolls, and tchotchkes – seem that much odder. And it also makes the triumph of Cimo’s ability to thoroughly transport us into a fictional world and totally buy into it that much more impressive.
Cimo plays Alex Moore, an out-of-work actor who gets hired to be the sales clerk at this lonely basement retail outlet, waiting mostly in vain for his one customer. When the reclusive celebrity finally does show up, the coy and slippery nature of the relationship that develops between Alex and Barbra propels a story full of laughs but also with intriguing nuances involving both the costs and privileges of fame.
Cimo makes it clear in the opening that he will not be impersonating Streisand in the show. He does an excellent job evoking her just the same, along with several other characters including Alex’s boyfriend, Barry, a Streisand devotee who starts out enamored by Alex’s proximity to the star but ends up jealous and indignant. As with most one-person shows, its success is dependent on having an actor at its center who you enjoy spending an evening with and Cimo is certainly that. He’s energetic without being manic, with an ingratiating smile and a casual manner that doesn’t oversell the occasional “WTF?” moments Alex encounters.
Clearly, director Dawn Westbrook has drawn from her long career as an accomplished actor to guide Cimo through this story. The pace is steady and the varied emotional beats all land with aplomb. Set designer Alan Williamson has provided a simple one-room set with the flexibility to serve as all of Streisand’s shops as well as Alex and Barry’s apartment, with the assistance of effective rear-wall projections. Michael Jarett’s lighting design plays a key role in delineating spaces and transitions, perhaps a bit too actively, ending up being distracting at times instead of clarifying.
There is an air of inevitability about the lifespan of Alex’s employment but, after the story plays out in a dense, intermission-free 85 minutes, the empowering coda seems to have come too quickly. It may be somewhat disappointing that “Buyer and Cellar” is entirely fictional, but that doesn’t stop the show from being insightful and entertaining, not to mention a bravura acting accomplishment for one of the area’s finest young actors.
“Buyer and Cellar” plays at Richmond Triangle Players, 1300 Altamont Avenue, through Oct. 31. Tickets and information are available at rtriangle.org or by calling 804-346-8113.