“Triple Espresso” A Decent Shot
City News, Rochester, NY
“Triple Espresso” doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it tears it down completely. Even before the show begins, the line between performer and audience is blurred. During the obligatory loudspeaker spiel – turn off your cell phone, emergency exits are to the front and back – the announcer cracks a joke about a brown Pinto parked out front that actually works into the story later in the show. Many plays have used the show-within-a-show/audience-is-the-audience motif. If anything, “Triple Espresso” takes it even farther, as the audience plays the part of many audiences over the three performers’ careers. Oh, and it’s also very, very funny.
When it starts, “Triple Espresso” is set in a fictitious Rochester coffeehouse of the same name on the night of Hugh Butternut’s 25th anniversary as the coffeehouse’s live entertainment. To help celebrate his big night, Hugh has invited his two former partners, comedian Bobby Bean and magician Buzz Maxwell, to join him onstage. Things predictably go horribly wrong since Buzz can’t stand the incompetent Bean, and the mentally unstable Butternut can barely keep it together. Ultimately the trio ends up rehashing their showbiz misadventures, from moderate initial individual success to embarrassing group performances that nearly destroyed their careers more than once.
And so the audience is transported from the colorful coffeehouse to a particularly awful freshman orientation concert at a college in the early 1970’s, to a Kiwanis Club luncheon, to a Wild West revue, to “The Mike Douglas Show,” then even to a spectacular TV special on “Cable Zaire,” all set to music, broad comedy, and magic.
“Triple Espresso” has a narrative, but it’s really a showcase for the talents of the three actors, who each get to perform separately, and then as a group. As Hugh Butternut, Dane Stauffer oozes that over-the-top, eager-to-please cheesiness that often defines lounge singers in the film and television lampoons. His Hugh is so pathetic and clueless that he wouldn’t seem out of place in a Christopher Guest movie as he butchers “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and other soft-rock hits. But Stauffer himself has a lovely voice and is totally game for the somewhat emasculating role. And if that was really him playing the piano during his talent competition bit, he’s kind of amazing
Duane Daniels’ Bobby Bean is an incompetent boob who ruins just about everything, but he’s also funny as hell – responsible for the majority of the laughs throughout the show. Bean has a kind of old-timey Vaudevillian shtick, employing sing-a-long gags and shadow puppets to great effect, along with his expressive mugging to the audience. The bit where he behaves like an ape during Butternut’s big piano number is uproarious.
Certainly not least is magician Christopher Hart as curmudgeon Buzz. Buzz has a milquetoast, extra-dry sense of humor that Hart fully takes advantage of, and he has the added bonus of employing some charming magic tricks. His earlier disastrous performances have a self-deprecating humor about them, but his later, polished tricks are real crowd-pleasers. His sleight of hand was my favorite part of the show.
If you want some good, clean, family-friendly fun, it’s a perfectly entertaining two hours with some very funny bits courtesy of three very talented performers.