Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006 | The thing about Lamb’s Players Theatre that makes it special is that it is an artist-directed theatre with a long-term resident staff. That staff is totally dedicated and consistently good at what they do.

Sometimes being good at what you do in theatre means overcoming a sometimes wobbly story by sheer talent. That’s what happened with “Five Cups of Coffee,” the latest play in production at LPT.

“Five Cups of Coffee,” by Gillette Elvgren and directed by Robert Smyth, is a story set fittingly at Milo’s Gourmet Coffee Shop and billed as “a dark-roasted comedy.” As the story opens, we are introduced to Milo himself, played by Jeffrey Jones in his debut at LPT. Even if you go to this play and don’t care for the story, go for Jeffrey Jones, he is amazing as Milo. He addresses the audience in conspiring little asides that engage, he had women tittering in the audience with his charm. He acts as narrator and changes personae when necessary to the story (think an angel at the gates of paradise, a desert tour-guide and … Elvis?)

If it weren’t for the pure charisma and talent of the rest of the cast, Jones would undoubtedly steal the show. After meeting Milo, we are introduced one-by-one to a group of people that are obviously somehow related. Hal, (Greg Good) on the run from his own wedding, stops at Milo’s for a rest and is cajoled by Milo into a cup of coffee. Hal is obsessed with time; dodging it, stopping it, explaining it. Good plays his role well; he captures and dramatizes the obsessive, tormented soul in Hal.

Characterizing the opposite of Hal is Rita (Carrie Heath), Hal’s one-time, jilted fiancee. Where Hal is worry and angst, Rita is calm. Heath exudes serenity in Rita that is the perfect yang to Hal’s yin. Heath gives Rita the qualities to successfully bring out the balance in the relationship between Hal and Rita.

The relationship between Hal and Rita is not the only one that hangs in a teetering balance. Rita’s parents are not together but still interact. Rita’s mother Gina (K.B. Mercer) is a seductive gypsy, her father (Doren Elias) is a lewd, blue-collar kind of guy. Mercer is smoldering, you can’t take your eyes off her. Elias’ rough-edged Frank stomps through scenes with his trucker hat and his near-mullet, shouting all the while. At one point, he does an overblown universal trucker-horn signal, leg in the air, and I nearly died laughing.

Also in the cast are David Cochran Heath (so good in everything) as Olaf, Hal’s father. Linda Libby plays Hal’s mother Dorothy as a disturbing, doting mother that’s just a smidge below psychotic level with gusto.

The story itself lost me a few times, especially in the desert in Iraq scene. It’s unnecessarily long-winded as Hal searches frantically for the Garden of Eden. There are a few other scenes that try repeatedly to get a message to the audience that worked the first time. However the message of being in the now, in the moment and letting go among other things, mostly redeemed the meandering storyline. Don’t worry, with lots of surprises and great actors and characters the show is hardly boring.

And back to Jones’ Milo. I haven’t heard the audience at LPT laugh so hard as with this production. He had the audience gleefully in the palm of his hand. To sum it up, the older gentleman sitting next to me, after laughing and enjoying the entire show, turned to me and said it was a kind of crazy story, but so well done that he loved it. I totally agree.

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