Triple Espresso’ entertainers skillfully blend their diverse talents
Los Angeles Times
July 3, 1997
Coronado–Some performers wait for good material to come to them. Others create their own. And then there are Bill Arnold, Michael Pearce Donley and Bob Stromberg, who don’t so much write material as find a fabulous way of stringing together their own very individual acts.
The result? A triple jolt of inspired craziness with “Triple Espresso,” extended through July 27 at Lamb’s Players Theatre.
The gimmick that pulls these three together is that Hugh Butternut (Donley), celebrating 20 years of lounge lizardom at the Triple Espresso cafe (where “Close to You” becomes “Close to Hugh”), is visited by the members of his former trio, Buzz Maxwell (Arnold) and Bobby Bean (Bob Stromberg). He invites them up on stage, naturally, ant this gives Maxwell, Butternut and Bean, as they were once known, the excuse to reminisce and do highlights and lowlights from their individual and collective acts over the years.
“Triple Espresso” was a hit last year in Minneapolis, where it originated. This West Coast premiere is under the same director, William Partlan, and crackles with infectious fun that should prove irresistible anywhere. Except maybe in Zaire, where the show sets on skit that… well, we won’t spoil the joke.
Donley is a terrific pianist, with the kind of mellifluous voice that makes you enjoy the parodies you know you’re supposed to groan at. He wrote the amusing original music that alternates with his takeoffs on cheesy standards.
Donley also shows off his keyboard skills in one segment in which Stromberg–an accomplished mime–tries to get the attention of judge Roddy McDowell by doing his “Planet of the Apes” impression. You won’t find a more convincing ape imitation–sans costume–in the San Diego Zoo.
Arnold, a crackerjack magician who proves himself equally adept at really bad magic jokes, has a dour, deadpan delivery that keeps the show’s over-the-top humor in perfect balance.
Nayna Ramey’s versatile, colorful, coffee-cup-dominated set establishes a bright tone that, with Michael Klaers’ lighting, accommodates all the swift changes in time and place, from the coffee shop to a college campus, Zaire and a hilarious disaster on the “Mike Douglas Show”.
But what “Triple Espresso” is really about is the triple threat of Arnold, Donley and Stromberg. As good as they might be individually, they are even funnier together, playing off each other and interacting with the audience.
They have so taken on the persona of the self-effacing flops who try harder that there they are, during intermission, playing their instruments just inside the open door of the restroom And they they are again at the end of the evening, waving goodbye to people at the doors of the theater.
The word is that if you don’t like the show, they promise to apologize to you personally. So far, it hasn’t been necessary.