Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008

3 Guys Weekend: Triple Espresso

By Russ Bickerstaff
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If I understand contemporary physics’ bedtime story of quantum causality correctly, a bewilderingly finite series of tiny, otherwise inconsequential and unrelated events ended up causing two 3-guy comedy shows to open on the same weekend in Milwaukee: the traveling production of Triple Espresso and In Tandem Theatre’s production of All The Great Books (Abridged.)


Midway through last week, I attended the second performance of this year’s local run of Triple Espresso. The touring show, which features three funny guys exposing their shtick onstage, had been through Milwaukee before. It was my first time seeing the show. The show’s premise was developed in 1995 by three guys who met over coffee to discuss the possibility of doing a fun, offbeat show together. The three brought comic disciplines of stage magic, music and physical comedy to the stage in a show that became quite successful. Years later, the original three guys are presumably on to other things. The show continues to draw audiences with three other guys in the roles they created. The Milwaukee run of the show opened last week. It runs through November 16th at the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall.

The show centers around three struggling stage performers who banded together years ago to try to create an act, only to have it fail miserably on national television. The three have a reunion performance at a café named—Triple Espresso. The café setting is a bit difficult to emulate in a theatre the size of Vogel Hall, but scene designer Nayna Ramey’s beautiful set does a pretty good job of making a very large stage look like a somewhat cozy high-end commercial café. Tables sit onstage at either end of the stage-within-a-stage resting at its center. Ambient sounds of a café can barely be heard filtering from the stage as people enter Vogel Hall. The show that follows is a bit uncomfortable for someone who has been to quite a few actual café-based shows over the years. The production is effective enough at inducing the setting that one feels the desire to drink contemplatively at a cup of coffee and be respectfully social to friends around a table. As this is actually a theatre show, I found myself fidgeting intermittently throughout the production.

With its mixture of magical, musical and physical comedy flavors, Triple Espresso feels reminiscent of early 20th century Vaudeville/Cabaret variety shows, which gives it kind of a novel appeal. The three performers are good enough at what they do to keep everything quite entertaining, but even if they weren’t, the novelty of seeing some of this stuff onstage would be good enough reason to go out and see it. The three performers here have a pretty good chemistry, but the real fun here lies in seeing things staged that don’t often make it to places like Vogel Hall.


The single most impressive standout performance of the three is Patrick Albanese in the role of stage magician Buzz Maxwell. Intentionally funny stage comedy is rarely successful in a big way. The only two comical magic acts that instantly leap to mind have been around forever. Penn and Teller have a hip, inventive street-level finesse to the traditionally dramatic art of stage magic. The Amazing Jonathan has a wild dark side. The comedy in the character of Buzz is clever in that the character isn’t particularly interested in being at all dramatic about what he’s doing. He’s comically bored, disinterested and imprecise. Albanese’s low-key performance delivers a breathtakingly minimalist approach to the comedy that makes the strongest impression of the three.


Bran Kelly plays Bobby Bean—a somewhat cloddish guy whose single most memorable contribution to the show is an extended bit of shadow puppetry. In over half a decade of covering theatre, I can honestly say that this was the first time I ever remember seeing an entire scene played-out in shadow puppets. It was surprisingly good. I’m hooked. I’m now ready to se shadow puppet productions of Hamlet, Strange Interludes and A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.


Paul Somers rounds out the trio as piano guy Hugh Butternut. Sommers is extremely charming, but it’s difficult to make much of an impression using music for comedy as it is done so often. In one of several instances of audience participation, he asks for requests by way of suggestions of ‘70’s musicians. I stifled a desire to blurt out groups like The Sex Pistols, the X-Ray Spex or Black Sabbath as this was a family audience and there were a number of kids in the room. As I recall, he did pretty good covers of Elton John, Billy Joel and the Bee Gees.

All in all, this was a pleasantly inoffensive evening of variety comedy that helped get me in the mood for a far more offbeat evening of three-guy comedy the following night at the Tenth Street Theatre.

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