No one is saying there’s really a Main Street USA.-style row of shoppes in Barbra Streisand’s basement. Michael Tolins’ clever new play, Buyer & Cellar, makes it clear from the start that his premise is total fantasy. But, oh!, we’d like to believe that la Streisand, sequestered in her fabulously decorated Malibu hideaway, longs for one-on-one contact with the new clerk in her private shopping paradise.
That clerk, played by the appealing and hilarious Michael Urie (he was Marc St. James on Ugly Betty), is our guide into Barbra’s world. He begins by showing us an actual coffee-table volume penned by the diva. My Passion for Design (2010) chronicles—through text and Streisand’s own photos—the always-tasteful compound she designed and built as a way of surrounding herself with beauty. Streisand’s meticulous mindset is well known, so it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine her housing her many collections (of dolls, old toys, used costumes, and so on) in quaint boutiques where she can browse and pretend to purchase.
It’s hugely appealing to envision a star of Streisand’s magnitude hanging out, in solitary splendor, in her re-purposed Malibu basement. From the earliest days of Hollywood, we common folk have liked thinking of our celebrities as breathing rarefied air, far from the madding crowds with their workaday lives. In the early years, stars like Mary Pickford chose hilltop aeries, and the trend continues, as any SoCal realtor will tell you. I can’t forget one brouhaha, back in the days when Johnny Depp was still living with Vanessa Paradis and their children. I’d always thought la famille Depp made its home in the south of France, but of course the Beautiful People can’t be limited to only one locale. It seems Depp and company also resided in the Hollywood Hills, overlooking the Sunset Strip. But their happiness was threatened by a planned office tower, far below, that would mar the aesthetics of their 180-degree view of the L.A. basin. It wasn’t that the tower encroached very much: it would be faintly visible only from the Depp children’s expansive play area. Depp was quoted by the L.A. Times as saying that no one had the right to spoil his children’s view. As much as I believe that SoCal overdevelopment needs to be checked, this was one case where I felt no sympathy for a homeowner whose sense of personal entitlement seemed limitless.
Down by the beach, entitlement runs rampant too. Malibu, of course, is a wonderful place for sun, sand, surf, and posh rehab facilities. It’s almost de rigueur for today’s stars to have a beach toehold. Many have put down roots in the Point Dume area, or along the exclusive gated street known as the Malibu Cove Colony. (I’ve been there, thanks to friends in high places, and therefore know what it’s like to truly get away from it all.) Of course, given the rabid nature of some fans, I can respect a celebrity’s need for privacy. But it’s enshrined in California law that beaches are open to everyone. Alas, Malibu-dwellers make quite a game out of limiting public access to their pristine stretch of ocean by way of gates to which only the privileged few have a key.
How curious that stars with down-to-earth appeal like to tuck themselves away in Malibu. I’m thinking not only of Streisand (who was glad to escape the cramped Brooklyn apartment of her childhood) but also the presumably populist Bob Dylan. He may sing of urban environments like Desolation Row, but this particular rolling stone gathers moss near the California surf.