Barbara Streisand’s comeuppance

A Streisand hit, without Streisand

Would you buy a used dreamhouse from this woman?
Would you buy a used dreamhouse from this woman?

There’s an old Jewish saying: If a man is rich, he also thinks he can sing. So it follows that if the diva— who disdains the third “a” normally found in her given name, who has an estimated net worth of $340 million, who has won two Oscars, five Emmys, eight Grammys, eight Golden Globes and even a special Tony— creates her own dream house from its first eureka moment to its last tsatzka placement, why shouldn’t Ms. Blandings-Streisand write and illustrate a coffee table folio about it and rearrange the objects on her mantelpiece to make room for a Pulitzer or a Pritzker Prize?

Puhleeze to both!

My Passion for Design, with all the woids and practically all the pickshuhs by Barbra, represents a veritable Everest in the Himalayan peaks of unconditional self-love. The words I, me, my, mine and/or variations thereof appear more times on the first page of her introduction than God had the chutzpah to use about Himself when describing His creation of the entire universe in the first chapter of Genesis.

Half-PR-release, half-hagiography, My Passion for Design contains all the Barbra fables, including the one about her poor, toyless Brooklyn childhood, 70 years ago, when she filled the family hot water bottle with warm water and pretended it was her baby doll. I presume it leaked.

Clumsy snapshots

Fortunately her neighbor/nanny Toby humanized it by knitting a pink hat and sweater for it, never dreaming a yarn about her yarn would make her a footnote to history.

Barbra’s book also inventories every object past, present and future that Barbra either “purged” or hoarded. Even copies of her sketches and handwritten notes to the construction crew are pulled into service as illustrations, including a note to Pablo to “remove ball!”

As for Barbra’s photographic skills, looking at her clumsy snapshots reminded me of being trapped on a plastic-covered couch by a hedge fund manager’s proud new mother-in-law and forced to kvell through an entire wedding video, only to learn that my twinkle toes had tangoed their way to the cutting room floor.

Now the good news

Does Barbra’s story of the creation of her chicken-cooped Connecticut farmhouse-cum-waterwheeled-millhouse-cum-tuches-to-turreted-tower-Malibu Monticello give her design creds? After reading as much as I could take in tiny chunks without nausea-medication architectural magnum opus, my major regret was that Barbra’s dream house hadn’t been built it on the other side of the pond, which would have made it eligible— eligible? A shoo-in!— for Design Magazine’s annual Carbuncle Cup, awarded to the ugliest building completed each year in the United Kingdom.

On the positive side, Barbra’s dream house supplied many craftsmen with work for hours, days, weeks, etc. But its greatest virtue was having inspired the playwright Jonathan Tolins to write his Off-Broadway hit comedy, Buyer and Cellar, which makes Barbra’s book worthy of all the trees felled to provide paper for its 296 extra large pages.

Does my intimate knowledge of the book’s contents indicate I actually bought a copy? Guilty! It cost $60 when it was new, and when I saw it offered for $3.61 like new from Amazon, I couldn’t resist.

Barbara’s curator

Buyer and Cellar takes place to a great extent in Barbra’s basement, and I wanted to see Tolins’s inspiration with my very own yenta eyes.

Barbra’s basement is actually a rip-off of the street of shops in the DuPont’s Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, with Barbra’s shops used as depositories for stuff for which there was no room in her numerous closets. How many shops are there? A doll shop; an antique shop; an antique clothes shop; a gift shop, a sweet shop with a frozen yogurt dispenser, sprinkles and a popcorn machine.

Tolins wondered what it would be like to work as the curator/caretaker for Barbra’s boulevard of shmattas. Buyer and Cellar is Tolins’s conclusion.

Instant sellout

Buyer and Cellar practically wrote itself. Talk about beshert. The unexpected cancellation of a TV series made Tolins’s favorite actor, the sly, incomparable Michael Urie ”“ “He gets my stuff” ”“ available to star in it. It was staged within months of Tolins typing the last period at the off-off-Broadway 99-seat second floor Rattlestick Theater.

Critical acclaim and sellout performances convinced commercial producers to move the play almost instantly to the 199-seat, ground floor, off-Broadway Barrow Street Theater. Buyer and Cellar keeps selling out and has been re-extended. It has recouped its investment in only nine weeks! And will be performed in LA and Chicago in 2014 for sure, maybe even San Francisco, Toronto and Dallas as well.

With so many national companies in action, Buyer and Cellar may race around the U.S. forever like a gay variation of Defending the Caveman or My Father’s Jewish, My Mother’s Italian and I’m in Therapy.

A nobody named Sadie

Michael Urie, Tolins’s leading man, plays five characters ”“ three male and two female”“ endearingly and brilliantly, starting with Alex More, a gay actor employed at Disneyland until he threatens to shove a churro up a wiseass kid’s ass and gets fired. However, his former boss shows he had a heart, remembers Alex had retail experience at Banana Republic and suggests Alex apply for an opening manning the shops in the basement of Barbra’s palazzo, where his acting background comes in handy and helps him pretend that the lady of the house— also performed by Urie ”“ is a nobody named Sadie when she wanders into her shops and haggles with Alex about the price of her own possessions.

Urie doesn’t imitate Barbra; he becomes Barbra as a holding-on-to-middle-age, bossy, manipulative, designing in every way, Jewish Bubba who moves like Voltaire’s Old Woman with one buttock in Candide.

In the meantime, you might wonder if I managed to slog my way any further through Barbra’s extensive passion with design. Yes! I finally managed to examine the ninth paragraph. It only had 23 references to the author.

At the rate I’m reading, it will take me more time to finish the introduction than it took the Native Americans to cross the Bering Strait from Asia.

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