The one-man show Buyer and Cellar, at the Westport Country Playhouse through July 3, follows Alex (played by Michael Urie) through his (fictional) adventures working in Barbra Streisand’s (real) basement mall.
Westport Magazine jumped at the chance to talk to both author Jonathan Tolins and star Michael Urie.
Tolins begins by sharing that his love for theater and film developed at a very young age. “I was always the person who wrote the script at school or camp, and I acted in a lot of plays at school and at camp, too,” he says.
Screenwriting and playwriting suited him. Among the many plays and films that he has written are Martian Child (2007) and Grease Live! with Robert Cary (2016).
Now there’s Buyer and Cellar. The idea for it came about when Tolins saw Barbra Streisand’s book My Passion for Design and was struck by the chapter about her basement mall. “I just thought it was very off and funny and I made a joke, ‘How’d you like to be the guy who worked down there?’” he says.
So he wrote the play and got the wonderful Michael Urie on board. He’s performed the play upwards of 550 times now. “It’s such a treat to see an actor who is willing to do a play for that long,” Tolins says.
Urie, best known for his role of Marc St. James in the ABC series, Ugly Betty, has traveled all around the country, from Chicago to San Francisco to New York City, to perform the show hundreds and hundreds of times.
Urie never gets bored of performing the same play over and over again because, he says, each audience reacts differently to the humor in the play. “I get a sense of what life is like in each place,” he says. Westport, Urie adds, is “very savvy,” “very clever” and also very appreciative of the furniture jokes.
Aside from the constant change that comes from traveling, Urie loves the variety that comes along with being an actor. “You get to do so many things,” he says. “The job lasts as long as the job lasts, whether it’s one day or four years.”
Buyer and Cellar has staying power. By now, Urie’s got the characters and the script in his bones.
He compares the process of mastering the challenge of standing on stage for over an hour and a half, talking the entire time, and capturing more than just a couple different characters with running. At first, he says, he would sweat a lot and his voice would become exhausted, but now, his body knows better than he does how to handle it.
“Once you can run a mile, it becomes a lot easier,” Urie explains. “Then you have to do two miles or three miles, or start swimming instead.”
Advice from the Pros
JONATHAN TOLINS on being confident with new ideas: “To be a writer or any kind of artist, you do have to develop a healthy arrogance that your work is going to be worth other people’s time.”
MICHAEL URIE on making the most of time cut-short [on Ugly Betty]: “We knew how special it was and we never took it for granted. We had our eyes open the entire time and enjoyed every second of it.”
Urie depicts 3 different characters in this one-man wonder of a show. – Photograph: Carol Rosegg