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Riverside’s ‘Buyer and Cellar’ sets the stage for a fall of fantastic virtual performances

No Child (a co-production with PURE Theatre)

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Grounded

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Patrick DuLaney in ‘Buyer and Cellar.’ — Riverside Theatre

According to the first result that loads on Google (bless you, Wikipedia), a utopia “is an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens.”

The hilariously absurd, one-man tale that unfolds in Riverside Theatre’s Buyer and Cellar is just that, a utopia. Starring the sensational Patrick DuLaney and directed by Chris Okiishi, this virtual adaptation of Jonathan Tolins’ play successfully stands on one question: What takes place in Barbra Streisand’s mall-like basement? Also, hear me out, what if someone worked down there?

Sure, with locations around Iowa City as your stage, the realities of the world can get a little messy — bugs zooming past the camera and cars drowning out fast-paced dialogue. Yet, even the repetition of backgrounds fails to deter Dulaney’s exquisite and brilliantly witty portrayal of down-on-his-luck actor Alex More. Intriguingly following More’s point of view and his unfaltering impressions of Streisand, his partner Barry, and other minor characters, the story unveils how he landed a job working as a “salesman” for a slightly eccentric Streisand. But what happens in the basement, and the aftermath, are what keep viewers sitting up straight in their recliners.

From the constant whir of the frozen yogurt machine and the popcorn maker to the bubble-making doll named Fifi with a tragic past, Buyer and Cellar vividly paints an insane scenario (based on Streisand’s 2010 book My Passion for Design) into a reality that the audience is rooting for. We watch as More earns Streisand’s trust with coffee-flavored yogurt drenched in sprinkles. We roll our eyes at Barry’s cynicism. And we cross our fingers with hopes of a friendship — and a peek upstairs. Some of the most memorable scenes, however, don’t even “include” the icon.

Patrick DuLaney in ‘Buyer and Cellar.’ — Riverside Theatre

For me, I distinctly remember laughing out loud (and not just blowing hot air through my nose) when More starts to uncover his boss’ flaws when re-watching The Mirror Has Two Faces. With the help of images on his computer, the social commentary and delivery had me rewinding a few too many times. I believe there was mention of a carrot, some perspective on straight men — and Judy Garland even makes an appearance.

Yet, what anchors the play is Moore’s own interpretation of a utopia. With a soft, kind look to the audience, DuLaney asserts that we’re all “struggling to create a world to fit our life into, to design and cast it with the right people … We’re all aspirational.”

This rings true for the copious amounts of items which Streisand fills her home with as well as her long-held grudge toward her “unconventional beauty.” It also serves as a metaphor for the external existence of this production. Now more than ever, we’re struggling to reconfigure our worlds to fit our new lives, which is why we’re currently watching theater with the ability to pause for our race to the chocolate bar we forgot we had.

In fact, this particular play is the epitome of a utopian fantasy, where imagination and curiosity are allowed to run rampant while humor and heart ground the piece for consumption. More faces some rather high and extremely low points, professionally and personally, throughout the hour and a half, but DuLaney’s ability to tell such a creative story is why any of us are here, really. A near perfect society is obsolete if not for the arts to help us shape it far beyond our wildest dreams. Life is much more meaningful than simply buying what everyone else is “cell-ing.”

Buyer and Cellar has finished its “run,” but there is much more to come from Riverside’s fall Virtual Performance series. This isn’t what we’re used to, but it works, and with Buyer and Cellar as proof of concept, it’s fair to say the rest of the series should be on your watch list. Tickets are available through Riverside Theatre’s website. You will then receive a confirmation email with the ability to stream the shows on their portal after quickly setting up an account. Relax, recline, remember the snacks beforehand — and enjoy!


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