Theater Review: Triple Expresso, at the Music Box Theater, Minneapolis

For a few years now I’d wondered why the show Triple Espresso kept coming back to Minneapolis. Was it a […]

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For a few years now I’d wondered why the show Triple Espresso kept coming back to Minneapolis. Was it a comedy? Yes, it was. But what was it about? I never got a sense of what it was about other than that it seemed to feature three middle-aged men. After seeing the show, I can tell you: It’s about relationships in show business and ultimately forgiveness.

The show, written by a trio (Bill Arnold, Michael Pearce Donley, and Bob Stromberg), opens in a coffee shop called Triple Espresso. There Hugh Butternut, played by Donley, tickles a few ivories and carries on in front of his grand piano. The set, designed by Nanya Ramey and lighted by Michael Klaers, was easily evocative of a somewhat-hip-but-almost-past-its-prime coffee shop. The waft of coffee sipped by its audience members helped the atmosphere. Then of course, comes the substandard issue idiot guy, otherwise known as Bobby Bean, who is played with hapless glee yet with an occasional sulk by Brian Kelly. He is so dumb at times that when he is supposed to make the American gesture for the word “peace,” he holds up three fingers instead of two. And then comes along Buzz Maxwell, whose demeanor and bearing seem quite constipated and played wonderfully by George Tuvor. Maxwell hasn’t forgiven Bobby for screwing up their big moment on The Mike Douglas Show, a popular national television program, 25 years before. When they re-enact the infamous mishaps that involve stage nudity (don’t worry, they never take off their clothes so you’d have to use your imagination here) their precise timing proves in ample evidence resulting some of the biggest laughs in the audience.

There are three other highlights in the show that I enjoyed: Bobby tries to capture the offstage Roddy McDowell’s attention by imitating how an ape would behave in the theater while Buzz watches Hugh perform; a clever takeoff on slow-motion as in the film Chariots of Fire, replete with the “Themes” excerpt from the soundtrack by Vangelis; and an even more astonishing sketch involving hand-formed silhouettes conveying different creatures. These men did such a wonderful job of inhabiting their characters, so much to the point that when they stood together onstage on the first time, I immediately caught the dynamics of their relationships to each other by their body language. In any case, the show ends on a note (well, more like three) of forgiveness, so all ends well.

On the ASL interpreting side, the show was ably translated by Evonne Bilotta-Burke and Todd Tourville. Bilotta-Burke interpreted the uptight Buzz Maxwell while Tourville handled the far more loquacious Hugh and Bobby. Even though she didn’t seem to interpret as much as her interpreting partner, her facial reactions were appropriate when Tourville couldn’t interpret some of the sound effects too low for Deaf audience members to hear. (In this case, it was the sound of knuckles cracking.) While Tourville did a fantastic job of translating, it felt as if he was going way over-the-top in comparison to the way his two characters were talking onstage. Also, it is my belief that interpreters are there to support the hearing actors and enable the ASL users to partake in the overall stage action, not to monopolize the attention of Deaf audience members. (However, I do not wish to imply that Tourville stole the show from the hearing actors; he did stop to allow us to watch the physical comedy.) I do like how the interpreters sat up near Hugh’s piano, right there on the stage, and drank their coffees; but I was a bit distracted by the whiteness of the tabletop next to their appropriately black outfits. If this show is interpreted again with these tables, I would suggest some kind of non-reflective material be used to cover the table.

What helps keep this comedy fresh is the audience participation, so come on down and join the fun. A mug of coffee may not be required, but a willingness to sip the caffeine of humor is. Triple Espresso, like good coffee, may prove to be quite addictive.

The performance reviewed was Nov. 15. Triple Espresso runs until March 1, 2009

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