Arts & Culture

Review: Riverside Theatre opens season in a virtual world with 'Buyer & Cellar'

Alex More (Patrick Du Laney) takes viewers around familiar Iowa City sites as he relates his experiences tending Barbra
Alex More (Patrick Du Laney) takes viewers around familiar Iowa City sites as he relates his experiences tending Barbra Streisand’s subterranean mall, in “Buyer & Cellar.” The solo show, directed by Christopher Okiishi, is opening Riverside Theatre’s 40th anniversary season — online. (Christopher Okiishi)
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Memories don’t just light the corners of storyteller Alex More’s mind. They explode from sepia to Technicolor as he recounts his time tending to Barbra Streisand’s basement mall in “Buyer & Cellar.”

This third time is utterly charming, as Patrick Du Laney of Iowa City — on hiatus from Broadway’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” — once again wraps himself in this mink stole of a show to open Riverside Theatre’s 40th anniversary season. Viewing opened Friday (9/11) continues online through Sept. 20, with the top ticket price a steal at $15.

But unlike his previous outings for the Old Creamery Theatre and the Grinnell Community Theatre, this time Du Laney is talking to a camera, not a live audience.

And it works, like budda.

Husband Christopher Okiishi slips back into directing mode, which guarantees plenty of imagination at play, as he and Du Laney romp through Jonathan Tolins’ award-winning script. They have created a fully realized production, roaming the streets of Iowa City to find an array of backdrops fitting each scene like an elegant glove.

Strolling through a park, stopping for coffee, leaning against Riverside Theatre’s former home on North Gilbert Street or moving through a chic showroom and the couple’s comfy, art-filled home, each setting creates the intimacy needed for this 90-minute conversation.

More is talking to the camera, but he’s really reeling viewers into the scattered pictures of the smiles he left behind in Malibu. Even if time has rewritten some of the lines, audiences won’t care. They will be enchanted from the opening strains of “The Way We Were.”

It was all so simple then. More, an actor fired from his job at Disneyland, followed by an “ick” play, lets his Disney connection set him up for a job requiring Main Street, U.S.A.-type experience. With no other prospects on the horizon, he drives down to the land of rich people in Malibu, only to discover the job was tending to the many shops in Streisand’s 1880s-style basement mall. She would be his only customer, whenever she was in the mood to shop her collections of dolls, gifts, antiques and vintage clothing — with a side of popcorn and frozen yogurt.

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In the beginning, More makes it very clear that the story is fiction, but the mall is fact. All of the ensuing conversations are just playgrounds in the playwright’s mind. And the merry-go-round is so delightful as More and Streisand push each other around with glee. Others enter this world as well, from boyfriends old and new to the people in Streisand’s inner circle.

Du Laney plays every character, by making subtle — and not so subtle — shifts in his posture, voice and gestures. More claims he doesn’t do Barbra impersonations, but when Du Laney gets verklempt, it’s pure Babs.

The script is very funny, but the laughs are judiciously spaced and will catch viewers by surprise. Little shimmering gems of brilliance sparkle here and there, as they settle into Du Laney’s crowning achievement. His timing is impeccable, as are his knowing winks to the absurdity of the situations.

In an earlier Gazette interview, he said he and Okiishi have developed a sort of shorthand, working together on shows. In this production, which required so much re-imagining of the scenes, that shorthand becomes the most graceful of cursive fonts. The show’s exquisite cat-and-mouse game takes the main characters on a looping ride, ascending and descending the stairs from the cellar to the floors above and out into the misty watercolor memories of the way they were.

I’m buying what they’re selling.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

To watch

• What: Riverside Theatre’s Virtual Stories Series: “Buyer & Cellar,” starring Patrick Du Laney

• When: Viewing window open through 11:59 p.m. Sept. 20; paying audiences can watch at any time

• Where: Online; ticket holders will be emailed the link

• Cost: $15 adults, $10 students, free for Riverside members; Riversidetheatre.org/virtual

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