‘Triple Espresso’ at Cosmo Cabaret is high-octane funny
June 5, 2012
As much as we know theater alchemy exists where disparate elements come together to create an experience greater than the sum of its parts, the same happens in comedy.
The subtlety of creating comic characters and laughable situations, and landing jokes, is an acknowledged art form. There is no formula, even though we can point to what works.
Occasionally, the chemistry of performers and material transcends what one might reasonably expect.
So it is in the case of “Triple Espresso,” now at the Cosmopolitan Cabaret, where the highly acclaimed production is ridiculously funny.
It’s the kind of show that causes you to think, “I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.”
You cannot have, because few shows have this much comedic talent and intelligence going for them.
Written and performed by Michael Pearce Donley, Bob Stromberg and Bill Arnold, “Triple Espresso” works like a comedy encyclopedia with its breadth of gags and understanding of where and when to use them. It’s much, much more comedy than theater, but with enough of a reasonable story thread to carry a narrative beginning to end.
The play ostensibly shows us the reunion of the comedic trio of Buzz Maxwell (Arnold), Hugh Butternut (Donley), and Bobby Bean (Stromberg) who imploded on the verge of their big break – an appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show.”
I have to add a caveat here because so much of the production’s success comes from performers and the play’s creators of the play I saw opening night; they are in the show only through Sunday.
The actors who follow, Christopher Hart (as Maxwell), Paul Somers (Butternut) and Brian Kelly (Bean), are seasoned performers intensely trained in the show, which they’ve also performed around the country. Still, they have large shoes to fill.
Donley’s Butternut, who opens the show, is a jovial lounge pianist projecting more style and overly interpretive drama than he knows what to do with. Stromberg’s Bean is an optimistic over-reacher, while Arnold’s circumspect Maxwell performs the funniest inept magic show you’ll ever encounter. We see each in his own segment as they trace the downward paths of their collective careers, which have landed them at Triple Espresso, a coffee house where Hugh is the entertainer of record.
The laughs are continuous because they’re not based on the same joke. There are sight gags, running gags, call-backs, verbal humor in the form of puns and malapropisms, physical humor and simple goofy behavior. It’s all performed with precise timing and an often disarmingly elegant physicality that elevates the production.
While the performers often engage the audience, the jokes are on them and they just don’t stop coming.
The California Musical Theatre’s new musical comedy production at Cosmopolitan Cabaret for a limited engagement is a hilarious three-man compendium of all that is funny.