Located in the Yellow Barn, near downtown Ann Arbor, Theatre Nova’s goal is to produce new plays.
“A main focus of ours is to try to do work that is relevant to a younger, multicultural, ethnically diverse population in and around Ann Arbor,” said artistic director Carla Milarch.
The theatre is offering pay-what-you-can ticket sales for young people who may not be able to pay full price for tickets. There is a suggested donation of $20, but you can see a show for whatever you can afford to pay.
The theatre itself is intimate and homey seating 77 people. This gives an up-close and personal view of the actors’ faces and subtle movements and allows the audience to be part of the show.
In the case of the theatre’s first show, “Buyer and Cellar,” which runs through the end of March, this connectedness to the action onstage is built into the show. This one-man play by Jonathan Tolins is the story of a fictional actor, Alex, who gets a job tending the mall in Barbra Streisand’s basement which actually exists.
Alex tells us of his interactions with Streisand in real-time and also via flashbacks. He starts in worshipful awe of Streisand, but throughout the course of the play, with help from his cynical boyfriend, he begins to doubt if she cares for him as much as she seems to, or whether it’s just another act she puts on in order to be liked.
Sebastian Gerstner not only has to be the only person onstage for the entire duration of the show, which is a workout in itself, but must play multiple characters; Alex, the narrator, his resentful and caustic boyfriend Barry, James Brolin, Barbra’s husband, and of course Barbra herself.
“Nothing really prepares you for what it’s like to do a one-man show,” Gerstner said. “I legitimately felt like a crazy person for a while in rehearsals, having conversations between different characters with myself. I have been learning a lot about myself as an artist and a performer, and it’s exhausting in a really great way.”
Gerstner, who has been a celebrated stage actor in the area for several years, inhabits each role seamlessly and with tremendous skill.
Flipping back and forth between characters, often from line to line, could be a train-wreck, but Gerstner does it with ease and defines each character beautifully. It would be easy to play Streisand as a caricature, but he doesn’t. Instead, he makes her mysterious, vulnerable and human.
Tolins’ play is witty and biting, making us laugh one minute, then providing a touching, thought-provoking moment the next. It is a compelling look at what stardom can mean and what it can do to people.
If every show Theatre Nova will produce is half as good as “Buyer and Cellar,” it will very much be worth a trip to Ann Arbor.
“Hopefully people will see the excitement in coming to a theater not knowing what to expect, because there is a lot of brilliant art happening that no one is seeing because it's risky,” says Gerstner. Theatre Nova is indeed taking risks, and they are paying off.