Ryan Findley

Triple Espresso

By - Oct 17th, 2008 02:52 pm

Failure is funny. That’s the basic premise of Triple Espresso: A Highly Caffeinated Comedy, playing in the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall. Three friends get together and tell the story of how they got their big break — and how they messed it up in spectacularly embarrassing fashion. The show is chock-full of mishaps, misadventures and belly-laughs as Buzz Maxwell, Bobby Bean and Hugh Butternut recreate the story of their slow rise and rapid fall in the wild and woolly world of show business.

Hugh Butternut (Paul Somers) anchors the show as a sensitive artist who actually manages to carve out a niche for himself in the performance world — he and his piano are the entertainment at a local coffee house called Triple Espresso. Buzz (Patrick Albanese) and Bobby (played by Marquette University graduate Brian Kelly) turn up at the shop one night, and the three embark upon the tale of their lives in show business as the trio Maxwell, Butternut and Bean. Their various exploits include an appearance on “The Dating Game,” a short-lived television show on Cable Zaire, a dream sequence recreating classic Three Stooges moments, and a shadow puppet show at a teacher’s convention.

Somers is delightfully sappy as the saccharine Hugh Butternut. He nails the “sensitive artist” stereotype perfectly as he attempts to hold the trio together during their rise and fall, and looks back on their time together with rose-colored glasses. Brian Kelly is equally wonderful as the boorish, bumbling Bobby Bean. He’s self-centered, a braggart, and deliciously sleazy. Both Somers and Kelly have an innate sense of physical comedy; their slapstick maneuvers are as funny as any well-told joke. Patrick Albanese seems less comfortable with the physical humor of the show, but the dead-pan expression and gruff demeanor of Buzz Maxwell fit him to a tee. He knows just how long to stare blankly at the antics of his two cohorts before turning back to the audience, and the palpable distaste Buzz has for magic emanates from him in comedic waves as he performs magic tricks in his rise to not-quite-fame.

Particularly side-splitting are the trio’s short-lived success on a cable network in Zaire, where only 1 in 87,000 people have a television and half of them don’t have electricity. Also the story of how Buzz meets Bobby when Bobby, then an aspiring folk singer, is hired to be the entertainment at a college freshman orientation session. And if you like magic, Buzz’s sleight-of-hand scenes will be particularly appealing as he combines magic, comedy and ill-humor in a seamless performance.

Triple Espresso incorporates a modicum of audience participation into the show, and if you get a good audience (like the one on Thursday night) it is a real treat. Additionally, while there are a few references to Milwaukee dropped into the script, at least one of them succeeds in being far funnier than most other such attempts to connect to a local audience. The entire show is high-energy, seriously over-caffeinated fun.

Triple Espresso: A Highly Caffeinated Comedy runs through November 16 in Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. 414-273-7121 or marcuscenter.org

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