In the one-man comedy Buyer & Cellar, Doug Atkins plays multiple roles—including Barbra Streisand, who marvels at the sheer number of people who are gay.
“God, there are so many of you,” she tells her employee, Alex More, in the July 14–August 12 production at Main Street Theater in Rice Village. “I know it’s supposed to be 10 percent of the population, but not in my life. Feels more like 70. Why do you think that is?”
“We have good taste,” Alex replies.
Throughout the 2013 off-Broadway hit by Jonathan Tollins, Atkins plays both sides of every conversation, whether Alex is speaking with Streisand, her brusque assistant Sharon, or Streisand’s husband, James Brolin. (“Everything about him just feels thick,” Alex tells the audience.)
Atkins also plays Alex’s boyfriend, Barry Rosenstock, whose parents, like Streisand, grew up in Brooklyn.
As Alex, Atkins narrates the fictional tale of how a struggling L.A. actor, recently fired from his job playing a costumed character at Disneyland, is hired to work in the storage basement of Streisand’s home in Malibu. His menial tasks include things such as steaming, feather-dusting, and applying a vinegar solution to clean the dress Streisand wore on Broadway when she sang “People” in Funny Girl.
“When I started this job, I was not that big of a Barbra queen,” Alex says. But even he is seduced by the chance to breathe the rarified air of the superstar’s home. Inside the gates of the estate, he says, “The leaves on the trees shimmered in the breeze like sequins on Liza Minnelli.”
Then, one day, “the Lady Herself” comes downstairs where Alex is working.
“She talked to me!” Alex says. “I wanted some connection. Isn’t that what all of us want?”
According to press material for the show, “It feels like real bonding in the basement, ➝ but will their connection ever make it upstairs in the real world? Buyer & Cellar is an outrageous comedy about the price of fame, the love-hate relationship between gay men and divas, and the oddest of odd jobs.”
This will be the second time Atkins has played Alex, having starred in a production of Buyer & Cellar two years ago at Stage West Theatre in Fort Worth. Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie originated the role off-Broadway.
“I am a blessed little guy,” Atkins says.
The 28-year-old grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, getting his start in theater as a third-grade violinist for a musical. The next year, he dumped the violin in favor of acting onstage as Mr. Bundles in Annie.
In fifth grade, Atkins played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. More roles followed, including Rolf in The Sound of Music, Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his favorite, Eugene Morris Jerome, the narrator in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs.
“I told my father, ‘I know I will do [acting] forever,’” says Atkins, who came out to his parents at 16.
“It was in a fit of anger the night before my junior prom,” he says, recalling how he objected to a proviso from his father. “I said, ‘It’s because I’m gay, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘It’s not because you’re gay. It’s because you’re an asshole!’ I was mouthing off. I was being a teenager.”
The outburst paid off for Atkins. “It allowed me to live as the musical-theater nerd that I was. I could hit on guys. I could talk to gentlemen in a dating sense. It opened me up to being able to pursue my style of acting.”
Atkins says he moved to Houston four years ago because of its theatrical oppor-tunities.
At JR’s he met his boyfriend, Charles, who moved here six years ago from Connecticut to work in the oil and gas sector. They have been a couple for two-and-a-half years, sharing their happiness with two miniature dachshunds.
The actor describes his affection for Buyer & Cellar as love at first sight. “The second I read it, I said to myself, ‘I am going to do this. It’s fate. I am going to do this piece.’”
Atkins is directed by out director Brandon Weinbrenner, who is the Alley Theatre’s artistic associate.
What: Buyer & Cellar, performed by Doug Atkins
When: July 14–August 12 (with previews July 12 and 13)
Where: Main Street Theater-Rice Village
This article appears in the July 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.