SUBTERRANEAN STREISAND: SILLY AND SUBLIME
It’s a heady cocktail, the Hollywood Heartbreaker: tartness and syrup, firewater and froth ,l served in the campest crystal with diamond sparklers. Heady delusion meets hard dollars, and schmaltzy folksiness erects steel gates against the overpressing adoration of the faithful. Rarely has this L.A. la-la land been skewered with such loving laughter as in Jonathan Tolins’ one-man play, a fantasy about Barbra Streisand.
That is, about her basement. He read, in her extraordinary vanity coffee table book “My passion for Design”, that as an avid hoarder of costumes, toys, antiques and curios the megastar actually built, in her Malibu basement, a row of old fashioned folksy stores . He began to wonder how it would be if she employed a floorwalker to play shops with her, down there under the pink (flattering) light whenever she cared to wander down the spiral staircase.
Hence this 100 minute virtuoso piece, hedged carefully around with insistence that – with “a person so famous, talented and litigous” it is definitely all made up. Although apparently acquaintances of the real Streisand have cautiously admitted a certain truthfulness in the characterisation. Who knows? There are strong gates, and she is an actress born…Anyway, its too good a fantasy to spoil, and comes to the glorious Menier (directed by Stephen Brackett) garlanded with off-Broadway awards.
The performer is Michael Urie – known from Ugly Betty – as Alex, an actor sacked from Disneyland (“Mouseschwitz”as embittered ex-employees refer to it ). who takes the weird subterranean job. Urie is ,from the opening moments, an elfin delight: entrancingly entertaining word by word, and controlledly camp. That control enables him to drop in and out another character, his boyfriend Barry who is thirty degrees queenier and has a typically schizophrenic and terrifyingly well-informed love-hate relationship with the Streisand legend .
Urie also gives us the cynical no-nonsense PA, and Barbra herself . She visits her deranged mini mall, playing improv shopping games with Alex: at this point it gets so funny you can hardly breathe. When he pretends to haggle there is “an almost erotic pleasure in denying this woman something she wants”. Then she begins to seem to show friendship: if it is ever friendship when the deal is so one-sided. Once , she demands that he stay on all evening in case she wants frozen yoghurt from her street’s candy store. Poor as a church-mouse, Alex mentions overtime and the diva cries : “It’s always about dollars and cents..why can’t people CARE as much as I care?” . Ouch.
The trajectory takes the story beyond mere sketch: Alex’s involvement torpedoes his real life by degrees, and ends in a lovely bit of disillusion. And froth-light as it is, the play gently, affectionately teases out serious themes. It’s about fame, fortune and unbridled acquisition: the terrible glamour of the famous boss who seems for a moment to care, and the gap between rueful strugglers at the base of the showbiz pyramid and lonely deluded billionaires at the top, clinging with absurd pride to the hard-luck legend of their youth. It is about aspiration and perfectionism and the way, as Alex admits, that we are all “struggling to create our own perfect little world” and watching the stars’ lives for “the comfort of the totally impossible”.
But I would hate you to think it’s in any way a sober evening. Never stopped grinning all the way through…
box office 0207 378 1713 to 2 May