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Review: 'Triple Espresso' invigorates with shot of genial comedy

Things are perking up at the CLO Cabaret, where "Triple Espresso" is playing through Jan. 9.

Coyly subtitled "a highly caffeinated comedy," it's the tale of three misguided and moderately talented guys who refuse to allow a lack of success to stop them from pursuing show-business careers.

It's set in 2002, as Hugh Butternut is celebrating his 25-year gig singing and playing piano at the Triple Espresso Coffeehouse. The evening becomes an uncomfortable reunion for Butternut and his two former partners, Bobby Bean and Buzz Maxwell. The threesome's act had dissolved after a series of incredibly disastrous career moves.

Interspersed with snippets of song and dance, interludes of audience interaction, some magic tricks and an abundance of goofy, laugh-out-loud comedy, it's an amiable, often funny way to pass two hours.

Much of the show is spent with the men recounting and reliving how they met and the disasters they brought upon themselves.

Notable among their career moves is the joint decision to hawk everything they own to fly to Kinshasa to appear on Cable Zaire for what they earnestly believe will be their big career break.

They also relive their biggest opportunity -- an appearance on "The Mike Douglas Show" -- in a riotously funny segment relating the last-minute improvisational decision that ruined their careers.

Dane Stauffer, Brian Kelly and Christopher Hart are first-rate, talented performers who bring a goofy charm to this trio of characters whose dreams, enthusiasms and self-esteem far outweigh their artistic abilities and good judgment.

Stauffer plays Butternut whose theme song might well be "Stayin' Alive." Stauffer imbues the part with all the smarmy charm and patter you'd expect from a guy whose career high comes from playing piano in a small town Midwestern coffee shop.

Kelly's Bobby Bean is the class clown whose ape imitation sends Butternut's chances at a concert piano competition down in flames.

Hart portrays the neurotic Maxwell, whose lame attempts at card tricks and sleight-of-hand wizardry entertain in ways his character never anticipated. His ineptitude and recoveries are some of the biggest laugh-getters of the evening. In real life, Hart is a talented magician, a skill that he shows off best as the show progresses and his character's ability improves.

The first half of the show moves more slowly than necessary. But redemption comes after intermission, when the energy, pacing and laughter pick up in a rush to the final moment.

Those who attend "Triple Espresso" hoping for deep insights into the human condition or profound conclusions will be disappointed. But this wryly funny, often inventive comedy provides enough laughter and entertainment to make your own problems with career and relationships seem minor.

Additional Information:

'Triple Espresso'

Presented by: CLO Cabaret

When: Through Jan. 9 with performances at 7:30 p.m. most Wednesdays to Fridays, 2 p.m. most Saturdays and Sundays. Check website for other times.

Admission: $34.75-$44.75

Where: Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown

Details: 412-456-6666 or website

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