New cooking play directed by an Ithaca College professor

“Buyer and Cellar” begins with a lone performer on stage, seated in a chair and staring intently at the viewer. Speaking directly to the audience, the man turns out to be an actor and explains that the next play is completely fictional and “the premise is nonsense”.

However, the premise is rooted in fact. In 2010, Barbara Streisand published a book titled “My Passion for Design”, which, among other things, features several photos of the underground replica of the mall that Streisand had built in his basement. The mall features fake storefronts and a huge collection of artifacts obtained by Streisand throughout his life. “Buyer and Cellar” asks the question: what if someone had to work there?

Alex, an unemployed actor, unknowingly accepts a job to work in Streisand’s basement, where he waits all day for his arrival. Karl Gregory, the only actor, plays all the roles.

The play was directed by Wendy Dann, an associate professor of theater arts at Ithaca College, who said the play’s significance goes beyond the obvious even though it is a comedy.

“It looks like a funny night at the theater, but on reflection I think you’ll find that he has a big heart, he has something to say,” she said.

Dann previously worked with the Kitchen Theater Company and said she thought the piece would be a perfect fit for this space. Even with his past experience, directing a solo piece was not easy.

“How to tell a story with one body? That’s the biggest challenge,” she said. “But what’s great is that it takes us back to what I imagine to be the origins of theatre, where you have a person dancing around a campfire telling a hunting story. There’s something very primitive about it.

One of the biggest design choices Dann made was to not have Gregory walk back and forth when switching characters, but to let the audience imagine Alex and Streisand joking back and forth. Similarly, Gregory does not seek to pass himself off as Streisand, but leaves it to the public to imagine his character.

Scenic and lighting designer Steve TenEyck, associate professor and associate director of the Department of Theater Arts at the college, made lighting and set decisions to reflect Dann’s plan for Gregory’s movements. He said a big factor in choosing the design for the play was basing the setting and acting around Alex rather than Streisand. He said he also wanted to avoid portraying Streisand’s basement on stage.

“The play takes place in so many different places: YesWe’re in Malibu, you’re in Alex’s apartment, you’re in Barbarathe courtyard. It go to all these different places how can we represent all these? said TenEyck. “The piece is quite descriptive, so Wendy and I decided early on not to provide much information about the landscape and the light.”

Indeed, the set looks more like Alex’s apartment than Streisand’s basement, which is supposed to be like stepping into a dream. When Alex first arrives, he describes it as “Dorothy going from sepia to Technicolor”. TenEyck said he wanted this feeling to be imagined and felt by the audience instead of replicated on stage.

“We decided to make the set reflect Alex who could then morph into the spirit of all the places he describes,” he said.

TenEyck also handled the lighting, which is the primary means of transforming the sparse set.

“Everytime Barbara in between, it’s a certain color, whenever Sheila is there, it’s a certain color, Barry has a certain color, so the space can transform and it helps the audience to have an organization to locate, but without say it specifically,” he said.

TenEyck likened the scene to a canvas, with the lighting decisions being the paint. When it comes to describing the lighting decisions, TenEyck emphasized that you have to see it to truly know the experience he described.

“We can talk about blue, but when I look at you, your blue shirt, your blue jeans and your blue pen are all different shades. We can talk about it, but until you see – that’s only when you see it in context that it makes sense,” he said.

Both TenEyck and Dann pointed out that the main focus of the piece is the transformation of the character of Alex, and that most of their decisions, whether it be lighting or directing, have been made in this spirit. Although the piece appears to be just for laughs, it has a message about friendship, self-defense and recognize who in your life is truly important.

“We wanted to follow Alex’s story of transforming from someone who does what he’s told, both at Disneyland and Barbra’s basement, to someone who really stands up for themselves,” Dann said.

“Buyer and Cellar” course September 23-27 at the Kitchen Theater, located at 417 W. State/MLK, Jr. st. Tickets are available for $15 to $40 online and at the Kitchen Theater box office.

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