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September 27th, 2006 Stephen Marc Beaudoin | Theater
 

Too Much Coffee Man Opera

High-octane opera lacks jolt to make it a habit.

     
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Too Much Coffee Man Opera is many things: a savvy marketing ploy, a mildly amusing divertissement, a valentine to the joys of java. An opera it is not.

Composer Daniel Steven Crafts and co-lyricists Shannon Wheeler (the local creator of the comic Too Much Coffee Man) and Damian Willcox have created a 50-minute quasi-cabaret in which no real coffee is poured onstage, which may have at least provided some much-needed heat to the proceedings.

There are three characters: Too Much Coffee Man (Stacey Murdock), Espresso Guy (Matt Dolphin) and Barista (Jasmine Presson). The plot is surprisingly short on caffeinated punch. Coffee Man professes love for coffee; Coffee Man professes love for Barista; Espresso Man intervenes, fight ensues; Barista quits job; all dance with spoons. Curtain.

If it sounds ridiculous, it is, and the lyrics don't add much in the way of enlightenment. As he pines over the buxom Barista, Coffee Man bellows lines like this: "Love is in my soul/ I haven't felt this much excitement/ since the doctor found that mole" or, "My meditation is hesitation/ the father of regret." There are opportunities for Crafts' music, scored for piano, clarinet and double bass, to comment on any of this, but the composer opts instead for generic underscoring (he's written television music) when he's not ripping off Bernstein or Sondheim.

Director Devon Allen generally leaves her cast to hang themselves. As our java-obsessed hero, baritone Murdock works like a demon in a stretchy red fat suit, and displays a sonorously big-boy operatic voice. He also sings English in English, which would be a plus if the libretto itself were more intelligible. Dolphin furrows his eyebrows and makes pouty faces as the lovelorn Espresso Guy, and Presson (Barista) has a real talent for wiping down a counter. There is no dancing to speak of, until the cathartic final five minutes when all three characters finally come together and sing "Coffee Is My True Love" while gyrating wildly with coffee spoons (choreography by Carolyn Holzman) in the best style of Corky St. Clair in Waiting for Guffman.

Almost three hundred years ago, a composer named Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a tiny work called the "Coffee Cantata." Bach's witty and well-crafted send-up survives; Crafts' dissipates instantly on the stage.


Portland Center for the Performing Arts, Brunish Hall, 1111 SW Broadway, 224-4400. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30. $24.50-$30.25.
 
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