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Center Stage

The Miracle of the Espresso


These days, Des Moines has a showcase area known as the Western Gateway that includes Papajohn Sculpture Park and downtown anchors like Centro restaurant. Yet, 15 years ago much of the area was badly dilapidated. The Masonic Temple was still in renovation, and many locals believed the place should have been razed.1402-triple-espresso

“But then our little comedy came along,” says Patrick Albanese of “Triple Espresso,” now playing again — for the sixth time — at Temple Theater. “That turned out to be the launching pad.”

Eric Olmscheid, of Des Moines Performing Arts, feels the same.

“Everything grew out of the enormous success of the show’s first run,” he said.

“Triple Espresso” opened in October 2002 and is a zippy and urbane entertainment that was discovered by Jeff Chelesvig, president of Performing Arts, and required just three players. Chelesvig decided to risk mounting the piece in an intimate space that didn’t yet have a name, upstairs in the rebuilt Temple. The plan called for an eight-week run. For the cast, they arranged out-of-towners.

Prep Iowa

“But then little Des Moines, Iowa, changed every aspect of my life,” says Albanese.

The production wound up running until spring 2004, in what Olmscheid calls “a phenomenon impossible to replicate.” Nowadays, the Temple could never book a show for 68 weeks solid; it couldn’t count on the performers sticking around — and two of them relocating. In Albanese’s case, he found himself spending more and more time with a local girl.

“This year we celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. We have two kids in school,” he says, still sounding amazed.

On top of that, the same happened with John Bush, another of the cast. Bush, too, is now in the city, happily married. But the miracle of “Espresso” went beyond the players’ love lives. The entire downtown enjoyed the ripple effect of hit theater. Centro took off, older venues got an uptick, and Performing Arts developed a third venue, after the Civic Center and its Stoner space, for work of all kinds.

“The Temple is just perfect for a piece like this,” Albanese enthuses. “I can feel the audience, under those low ceilings. It’s a real ‘listening space.’ ”

The actor himself has learned to listen after so many turns as magician Buzz Maxwell. He’s learned that the script, worked up by three performers in Minneapolis, is “effortlessly funny.” He no longer tries to make unnecessary faces or otherwise “pack the jokes with Comedy Helper.”

The music feels likewise bubbly. The man on piano is Patrick Somers (another holdover from 2002, though he hasn’t moved to town) and Albanese dubs him “a master of ’70s pop.”

“Nobody has ever called out a number he didn’t know,” he says.

Audience participation like that plays a part in the fun, as does slapstick and more. But “Triple Espresso” clearly has a form of magic beyond explanation in this town.

“Des Moines has been so awesome,” says Albanese. “I owe a tremendous debt to everyone who shows up.”

Overheard in the Lobby: The Playhouse Family Holiday Classic is “Willy Wonka.”  ♦

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere.

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