Monday, October 04, 2004

Triple Expresso (Playhouse Square Center)

‘TRIPLE ESPRESSO’ a bad cup of coffee

As the public relations release for ‘TRIPLE ESPRESSO,’ the show which recently opened at the Hanna Theatre relates, “Early in 1995, Bill Arnold, Michael Pearce Donley, and Bob Stromberg, three successful solo performers who admired each other's work, gathered over coffee, never knowing the full impact the caffeinated brew would have on their future. They decided to write something they could perform as a trio. Wanting to set a reasonable goal, they decided to write "the funniest show in America"; and booked a performance for three weeks later in a local church.”

Since then, the show has received welcoming arms. In San Diego the show has been running for five years. A Denver reviewer stated, “Triple Espresso is light, funny and family friendly. Yeah, it may not be all that sophisticated, but it sure is fun!” A St. Louis
commentary indicated, “Its good mood jumps down from the stage right into the audience - and so, sometimes, do the actors.”

I hate to rain on the parade, but I don’t know what those reviewers found so wonderful. Count me as one of those who wasn’t impressed. I found most of the show to be trite and begging for laughs.

"TRIPLE ESPRESSO" supposedly takes place at a coffeehouse where pianist Hugh Butternut (Michael Pearce Donley) is marking his silver anniversary at the keyboard. This is not exactly the career Hugh envisioned; he used to belong to a trio with big dreams of "The Mike Douglas Show" and appearances on Cable Zaire. (Honest, I didn’t make this up.) For the anniversary, he reunites with his old partners, magician Buzz Maxwell (George Tovar) and comedian Bobby Bean (Bob Stromberg). Sharing memories and renewing old squabbles, they go through a series of routines intended to show why their act didn’t work. Hmmm......

Donley and Stromberg are two of the original conceivers of the doings. Donley has a fine singing voice and is a wonderful pianist. Too bad he just didn’t spend the evening singing and playing, it would have been a treat. The segment where he took audience requests and played and sang the likes of Elton John and Billy Joel was great. His children’s song take-offs was also a treat.

Stromberg, who tries to be a combination of Dickie Smothers and Jerry VanDyke, elicited laughs from the audience who seemed to enjoy his over-the-top broad farce. I guess if you like to see the same goofy facial expressions, vocal sounds and prat falls over and over, you’d enjoy Stromberg. To his credit, a segment of shadow play using his hands was excellent.

Tovar is a delight. His static face, intentionally bad magic routines and droll comedy offered some of evenings best highlights.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: When I go to the theatre I want to leave with a feeling of having spent my time well. That was not the case with ‘TRIPLE ESPRESSO.’ The trite premise was just not to my liking. If you want to see a wonderful review, walk right past the Hanna and go into the 14th Street Playhouse and see ‘MENOPAUSE, THE MUSICAL’ a premise that works!