“Buyer & Cellar” Demands a Lot From Actor And Supplies Huge Laughs
I don’t know if there’s a more profound satisfaction than watching an actor you’ve known for years take on an enormously challenging role and just kill it. Shayne David Cameris as Alex More in Jonathan Tolin’s “Buyer and Cellar,” presented by Lake George Dinner Theatre at Charles Wood Theatre in Glens Falls is just leaps and bounds beyond anything I’ve seen this fine actor do. He’s always been good but this is a one-man show where he tells a fantastic story, creates half a dozen other characters that he interacts with and generally has the time of his life pouring his joy into his character’s wide-eyed wonder at the world. Tolins, director Jarel Davidow and the pandemic which necessitated smaller casts have given Cameris a golden opportunity and he runs around ripping into Tolins bon mots like a kid tearing open presents on Christmas Day.
The story is that in 2010 Barbra Streisand wrote a coffee table book and took the photographs about her “Passion for Design.” In that book she described a cellar that she set up which had different stores featuring her collections of costumes or toys with a sweets counter that had a frozen yogurt machine and popcorn popper and a gift wrap shoppe that also trafficked in extra “p”s and “e”s. This is a work of fiction our narrator assures us. We should never believe that such a beautiful, iconic and one of the 20th Century’s most legendarily talented and litigious voices would ever have an underground mall that was looking to hire an attendant for when she wanted to shop her own belongings. That would be crazy!
Our hero, Alex More, has just been fired from Disney World where he was Mayor of Toon Town for threatening to shove a churro down a kids throat for calling him a loser. He gets a referral call from another Disney “cast member” with whom he was macking on the Matterhorn and makes the hour and twenty-minute commute to the job interview in Malibu. He’s instructed to hide his Jetta behind some bushes, outfitted in a “Music Man” mercantile costume, brought down a circular staircase and told to wait. He busies himself with dusting before the front bell rings and soon he’s interacting with The Customer. “Call me Sadie,” she says.
What transpires is a giddy romp into celebrity culture, idol worship, our attachment to our possessions and our fragile sense of self worth and need for connection. The Wood Theater stage has four pillars upstage showcasing the different shop’s wares (set and prop design by Colleen Doyle Potter), there are a couple of white chairs a bench and a rolling work table that Shayne moves himself setting up different shops or his boyfriend’s apartment or the holy grail, when he enters Streisand’s living room in a climactic moment and lays his head back on her chaise while she strokes his hair. The lighting designer Rachel Budin does some really clever effects like throwing shadows on the upstage wall during nighttime scenes in the mall and using the two hanging lights on either side of the stage to create separate spaces, especially for Alex’s boyfriend. It’s great to see local theater artist Jeremy Beuchner’s name providing the casual chic costume for Alex.
Cameris is a strong singer, a vivid stage presence and has always been a solid moment to moment believable actor in the eight years I’ve been watching him in a dozen shows or so but I’ve never seen him so loose, free and fun. He is charming and touching as Alex, a guy you empathize with when his check engine light goes on. We want good things for him. But it’s in Shayne’s creations when the fun takes off. His Barbra is a riot yet not campy or exaggerated, you will find yourself imitating him doing her on the trip home. Shayne scores again and again with Shirley, his gorgon at the gate who gets immediate reactions, his one line as Arthur Laurents and Barry, his boyfriend, is a clenched fist, screeching his discontent but perhaps best of all is his understated James Brolin, all angular and flinty on a late night froyo run. Cameris not only creates these characters but then reacts in the scenes with them and that’s where he excels. He pours himself into his reactions. His first encounter with Streisand and the gradual upping of the improv stakes between merchant and public in the manufactured mall is priceless. We saw the first public performance and I’m sure it will grow and refine. He trips over a few too many words and his physical life will get sharper for all his characters.
Lake George Dinner Theatre is doing its first co-production with the Charles R. Wood Theater on this production of “Buyer & Cellar” and there are passages from Thomas More’s “Utopia” which describe us all as aspirational. Barbra asks Alex what he wants in life and he answers that he wants to have the talent and resources to make things for himself and others to enjoy. “Buyer & Cellar” is a thoroughly enjoyable fable about divisions and our creative reaction that overcomes them.
Through 9/29 @ The Charles R. Wood Theatre