Portland actor Dustin Tucker returns to his favorite stage this week for the first time since appearing as a bombing victim in the movie “Patriots Day” about the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks.
At Portland Stage, Tucker stars in the one-man show “Buyer & Cellar” about a struggling Los Angeles actor who takes a job managing Barbra Streisand’s private mall that she built in her basement to store her belongings.
In the movie, Tucker, 37, plays the role of Stephen Woolfenden, who lost a leg in the attack on April 15, 2013. Tucker has several lines in the movie starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman and Kevin Bacon. He was cast, he said, because of the physical characteristics he shares with the Woolfendon. “I fit the description,” Tucker said. “I’m not a movie actor, but it was fun, and it would be fun to do more of them.”
Stage acting is Tucker’s first love, and “Buyer & Cellar” gives him an agreeable platform to explore his craft. He specializes in one-man shows that rely on an actor’s quick wit, physical skills and vocal dexterity. He plays a half-dozen characters in this silly comedy, which opened off-Broadway in 2013. Tucker saw the show in New York and recommended it to Anita Stewart, Portland Stage’s artistic and executive director.
Previously, Tucker has starred in “Fully Committed” at Portland Stage, as well as “The Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris, which ran several years at the theater during the Christmas season. Both are one-man shows. “Buyer & Cellar” challenges him in different ways than the others, he said.
In “Fully Committed,” he played a reservation clerk in a Manhattan restaurant who spends his day telling would-be diners that the restaurant is full, so the other characters are on the other end of the phone. And “Santaland” is a narration about the central character’s experience as a department store elf during the holidays.
“This is a mix of both,” Tucker said. “It’s telling a story, but scenes happen on stage with two characters at once.”
In “Buyer & Cellar,” he plays Alex More, an out-of-work, 30-something actor who moves on a tip about a job managing Streisand’s basement mall. It’s his job to keep it neat and clean and to clerk for Streisand when she wants to visit her things.
A note: Streisand’s basement complex actually exists. She built it in her Malibu home to store all of her belongings in a neat and orderly way. Playwright Jonathan Tolins wrote the script after looking at Streisand’s coffee table book, “My Passion for Design” that includes a chapter about her underground complex. “I studied that book and every picture very closely,” Tolins has said. “I became obsessed with it and made a joke about what it would be like to be the guy that works down there.”
The only fiction in the play is More, who doesn’t exist in real life. “He’s hired to work there so Barbra can shop for stuff she already owns,” Tucker said. “And she’s a tough customer.”
In the play, More and Streisand become unlikely friends, which doesn’t sit well with More’s boyfriend, Barry. Among the characters that Tucker portrays are Streisand and her husband, the actor James Brolin. The play explores friendships that exist between bosses and workers, idols and fans.
Director Kate Galvin calls the play “silly fun. Alex is a very charming guy you are happy to get to know. Alex is a great everyman. He gives us access to a world no one has access to.”
The play runs about 90 minutes without an intermission.
Watch Dustin Tucker do some character research in downtown Portland
Tucker is intrigued by Streisand, whose fame crosses the disciplines of stage and screen with music and movies. “I am a fan, and I do like her,” he said. “I didn’t know much about her until I started this show. And there is so much out there about Barbra. She’s fascinating. She came from nowhere and became an icon and self-made force of will and talent. I would be terrified to meet her in person. She is such a force.”
A Texas native, Tucker has lived in Portland nearly a decade and become one of the city’s most recognized stage stars. He’s appeared in many plays at Portland Stage, and also travels to perform at theaters around the country. With “Patriots Day” still in theaters and Tucker on stage in “Buyer & Cellar,” it’s made for an interesting winter for Tucker. A Boston casting agency called Tucker last spring, asking if he would be interested in pursuing the movie role.
He said the experience was “crazy.” He spent a little less than two weeks on the set at a Boston-area sound stage.
Woolfenden lost a leg in the blast. He was with his 3-year-old son, who also was injured. They were standing near Bill and Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, died. In the movie, Tucker tries to attend to and account for his own son, who was carried to a waiting ambulance, while dealing with the loss of his leg below the knee and the mayhem around him.
In addition to the challenge of adapting his skills to a movie set, Tucker also had to adapt to the unpredictable nature of working with a child actor. Tucker’s experience acting in one-man shows paid off in the movie. Half of his lines that ended up in the movie were not scripted, he said.
He’s at least the second actor closely associated with Portland Stage who has landed a speaking role in a major movie filmed recently in Boston. Moira Driscoll appeared in “Spotlight” in 2015.
WHERE: Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
WHEN: Final preview at 7:30 p.m. Thursday; opening night is Friday. Regular performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday though March 26.
TICKETS & INFO: $32 to $48, with discounts for students and seniors; 774-0465 or portlandstage.org
This story was updated on March 7 at 9:47 a.m. to correct the spelling of the maine character’s last name.