Lamb's Players Theatre is describing its world premiere production of "5 Cups of Coffee" as a "dark roasted comedy of love, caffeine and the space-time continuum."
Would that it were so rich and fresh. Despite strong performances by a fine cast and sparkling technical aspects, Gillette Elvgren's meandering and tiresome script turns even Lamb's most determined effort into a bland, stale, unfortunate brew.
Coffee metaphors aside -- and there are more than plenty in the play -- the script is all over the place, geographically and thematically. Sure, quantum physics as allegory for the human condition makes for some intriguing contemplation. But Elvgren's unsophisticated and shallow use of quantum theory becomes mere mystifying metaphysical mumbo jumbo. And the characters are mostly stereotypes: the nutty science guy and his patiently understanding bride, the overly protective mother and the lascivious one, the absent artist father and the philandering blue-collar one.
Still, the Lamb's ensemble makes the most of these thinly drawn characters. K.B. Mercer is a pleasure to watch as the free-spirited Gypsy mom who dispenses get-over-him advice to her daughter, such as: "One woman can outgrow four or five men!" David Cochran Heath plays the carefree artist with casual charm and humor, and Linda Libby is frenetic and hysterical as the overbearing mother. Doren Elias is all cantankerous bluster as a disgruntled truck driver, but isn't given much to work with in the role.
Tuxedoed and terrified, Hal has just run off mid-wedding. He ends up at Milo's Gourmet Coffee Bar, though as it turns out he's never had a cup of coffee in his life. The five cups referenced in the title, though, will be consumed at key moments in his life.
Tying the action together is the proprietor of the local coffeehouse where everyone seems to congregate. Jeffrey Jones is jovial and likeable as the coffee-brewing narrator from Bulgaria ("Latin America without the sun"). Jones may just have the best role, by turns charismatic, silly and sincere; he gets to tango; and he offers some of the most lyrical lines -- about that "brown elixir" of life, of course.
The contentious parents and nearly jilted bride Rita (Carrie Heath) eventually catch up with Hal at Milo's, and in this early scene we see hints of the loopy turns to come. Flighty Hal gets lost in existential ruminations of time and space and starts spewing quantum theory about how an electron can be in two different places at the same time. He seems deathly afraid of procreation, which he calls "incesticide" on a global scale.
While Carrie Heath brings some sobriety to this band of familial dysfunction as the steady young bride, and Greg Good does the best he can in the ill-defined role of Hal, there isn't much to compel belief in their lifetime romance.
And suddenly, by way of an unconsummated honeymoon in Cairo, we're in the deserts of Iraq, where the Garden of Eden -- and the key to Hal's understanding of time, space and everything -- just might be located beyond a wrought-iron gate. But will he choose the present, his wife and family, or chase after the answers to his gnawing questions?
The answer, most likely, is "Who cares?"
The supernatural turn is given a good veneer, at least, in Mike Buckley's handsome sets, Nathan Peirson's apt lighting and Deborah Gilmour Smyth's lovely sound design, which adds immensely to the mood throughout. But without a more focused story, a glossy finish is about all "5 Cups of Coffee" has at this point.
PROGRAM: "5 Cups of Coffee"
Organization: Lamb's Players Theatre
Dates: Through Sept. 17
Show times: Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Location: Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado
More information: (619) 437-0600 or www.lambsplayers.org