As Barrett Foa begins performances in Buyer & Cellar at the Barrow Street Theatre today, he will join what is becoming an impressive fraternity of performers. Ugly Betty's Michael Urie originated the role at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in spring 2013, and Christopher J. Hanke (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) took over the following Barrow Street Theatre run from Urie in February.
Now it's Foa's turn to step into Barbra Streisand's high-end basement mall in the role of Alex, an unemployed actor who lands a gig as the private establishment's sole employee. TheaterMania recently spoke to the NCIS: Los Angeles star about embracing the craziness of one-man shows, rejoining the theater community, and learning to respect Barbra.
Were you familiar with the Buyer & Cellar before getting involved?
Yes. I had seen the show last Mother's Day. I was there with my mom and my dad. We took in a matinee of Buyer & Cellar, and then we saw another one-person show about Barbra Streisand, the Sue Mengers show [I'll Eat You Last]. And it's funny because one was a hot ticket with a big star and the other one was in, like, a ninety-nine-seat theater, and I have to say that was the one that had an impact on my mom and my dad, especially. After Buyer & Cellar, he was like, "My god, there wasn't a wrong word in that thing. That was so great." And also, funnily enough, I was sitting right next to [writer] Jon Tolins and his mother, and he leaned over to me, because we know each other a little bit, and said, "Pay attention because you might be doing this one day." Isn't that crazy?
Have you ever done a one-man show before?
I have not. I mean I've done solo shows at Ars Nova or The Duplex, just kind of cabaret-y shows. But that's my own thing. This is someone else's words. And that has music in it. This is just a hundred minutes of me talking and playing six different characters. It's so much fun, and it's getting more and more fun as it gets in my body… And it's such a small stage, there's really nowhere to hide. But that's what's so great about it — it's just so exposed. It's probably the most exposed I've ever felt or been in my career...it's really just you and the audience. It's fun.
What are you looking forward to about being in front of an audience?
It's hard because I've really only been doing it with the creative team, and all of the built-in jokes in the script are not funny to them anymore. They've been seeing this for over a year. So those guaranteed built-in laughs are not there, which is disconcerting. They're just kind of laughing at all the funny things that I do differently from the other guys. It was really stressful at the beginning of the week, and now I'm kind of coming to terms with the craziness of it.
Are you a Barbra fan?
I didn't grow up with her or her albums. But now, doing all this research and getting to know who she is a little bit, I've come to understand what an unbelievable talent she is — just from comedy to drama to directing to producing, and it just keeps going. It's almost like, you're so fantastic no wonder you're so screwed up, which is kind of what the play talks about. You know, she's a guarded person and she's isolated and she has neuroses and she has control issues. But that's also what makes me love her and what makes this play so fascinating, to see what celebrity does to someone and what walls you build up.
It's been a while since you were last onstage.
Well, I did some summer stock last summer, and I played Harold Hill. But that was last summer. And this is New York so my friends are here, all my college buddies, my Broadway community is here, my family is here... I'm excited to be home and performing in my hometown for my friends and family and my community. In L.A., community's not the first word on anybody's lips. You don't hear, like, "the TV community." The theater community in New York is like no other.
What else are you up to?
I'm the social-media correspondent for the Tonys. It's fun to be backstage at all the rehearsals and just basically saying "Hi" to all my friends. It's funny when CBS hired me, they were like, "So, um, here's your handler, and so there's Neil Patrick Harris, so I'm gonna go up and introduce you two," and I'm like, "Hi Neil, what's up!" We're old friends. I'm like, I know this community. You hired the right person for this.