Barba Streisand's Big Fuck You To Everyone

26 October 2015 | 1:21 pm | Simon Eales

"It's great that a woman had that kind of nouse and strength and ability to do that."

The idea behind having a basement is that you can keep stuff down there you don't need right now, like gardening equipment and your Ab Swing Pro. It's about convenience. Someone who does basements better than most, though, is Barbra Streisand. In her wonderful coffee table tome,
My Passion For Design
, a pictorial journey through her greatest lifestyle accomplishments, Streisand shows off her personal basement paradise: a real shopping arcade decked out with clothes, shoes, homewares and furniture.

It's a remarkable place, and it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a play about it. Jonathan Tolins' one-man Buyer And Cellar debuted Off-Broadway in 2013 to a rapturous response. This month, it comes to the Melbourne Theatre Company with Ash Flanders, award-winning co-creator of Melbourne's schlock-theatre outfit Sisters Grimm, playing Alex, an out-of-work actor who gets a job tending to Streisand's underground wonderland. For Flanders, Barbra's basement is an amazing and symbolic lair. "It's basically a look at celebrity and how we all create our funny little worlds," he says. "If you had the resources to make your world completely hermetically sealed, would you do it?"

"It's certainly not a play that solely demonises or lampoons, or makes Barbra look stupid."

"You hear stories all the time," he continues, "you know, Prince can only eat behind a curtain because he doesn't want to be seen eating. These people are very talented and all these things come at some sort of psychological cost. But Barbra, out of any other celebrity, her need for control is actually part of her character: 'I'm gonna produce my own films and I'm gonna direct them, and I'm also going to star in them, because I can do that.' It's very powerful, and it's great that a woman had that kind of nouse and strength and ability to do that, and to say a big fuck you to everyone."

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In this sense, Buyer And Cellar, Flanders reckons, displays an aspect of the fame game that's lost these days. "If you look at the younger stars, they have to be very agreeable, and be pleasing to everyone, whereas back then you could be niche. Like, Barbra made her break playing the wise-cracking, not-so-pretty, oddly gorgeous Jewish girl from Brooklyn... I can't imagine Jennifer Lawrence being like that. Now you get cast on how many Twitter followers you have."

Flanders and director, Melbourne's Gary Abrahams, make a breakout combo, transitioning to the mainstage from several years of cutting edge independent work. "I think he's pushing me," Flanders says. "Every actor, every artist, wants to try and get to a new thing every time. This is feeling like a new thing for me, and I'm working really hard. We're going for it. Like, really going for it. Like, if we can pull this off, it'll be great!" He bursts into laughter.

There's a bit of a murmur surrounding the show worldwide: 'What would Barbra say if she saw it?' "It really is, like, rock-em, sock-em, like, really hit that joke hard," Flanders reflects. But, he adds, "It's certainly not a play that solely demonises or lampoons, or makes Barbra look stupid. You get a very— I hope, and I believe, if I can do it right — a very fleshed out version of, 'maybe she's a bit this, and a bit this,' because, like all of us, she's a very complicated person."