By Karen Isaacs
Fully Committed now at TheaterWorks through Sunday, Sept. 1, looks at the temperaments of both staff and customers at a 5 star NYC restaurant.
This one person play (I’ve seen it done by both male and female actors) was originally written in 2000. When Jesse Tyler Ferguson did the play on Broadway in 2016, the play was revised and up-dated. I saw the original several times, and the new version seems very similar with mainly names of celebrities, etc. changed. But I did not do a side-by-side comparison.
Sam is a struggling actor who works in the crowded basement of this red-hot restaurant. Everyone wants a reservation. His job is to answer the phones no later than the second ring and juggle (politely) the requests. Some customers are nice but others feel entitled. He must keep track of those priority or VIP customers (and there are several levels), handle complaints and do much more. In addition he must communicate with the upstairs staff – the imperious chef, Jean-Claude the maître d’, Stephanie the hostess and some others.
But Sam is having a very bad day – two other reservationists aren’t there, leaving him to handle the multiple lines and the hundreds of calls.
For any actor this play is a challenge; Sam takes on the voices, accents, even body language of the various callers as well as some of his co-worker Bob, his father, his friend (a fellow actor) and others.
Jamison Stern does an outstanding job creating these people. You absolutely get to know those that are on the longer or have recurring bits. For example, when he is dealing with the resolute 86-year-old senior citizen: who calls to complain about not getting the AARP discount, by the end of the call you can definitely picture her and her indignation.
One of the key moments in the play is when he calls his agent to see if there was feedback on an audition the day before at Lincoln Center. The administrative assistant doesn’t have any news, but does tell him he should act more “entitled”. By the end of the play, Sam is and various people get their comeuppance including Bob (the head reservationist) who hasn’t shown up for a spurious reason.
Between Stern and director Bill Fennelly, some wonderful moments are created. I loved when Sam becomes so angry, this is during his transformation, that he lets the phone ring while he breaks a pencil point, sharpens it and then repeats that several times. I found a number of these moments scattered throughout the play.
Obviously, the play shows both staff and customers as in some cases demanding and entitled (Gwyneth Paltrow for instance) and other times, polite and understanding. He also talks several times to his Dad, who is hoping Sam can get home for Christmas, the first one after his mother’s death.
Playwright Becky Mode keeps the play moving and effectively mixes the pleasant and unpleasant calls as well as the emotional moments. There is one incident in the play (I won’t explain it) that I’ve always wondered if it was necessary. Certainly Stern make a convincing case that it is.
Brain Prather’s set design is terrific. He has created a cramped basement with three desks, shelves of glasses and pans, the red phone the chef uses. Frederick Kennedy’s sound design even gives that phone an annoying, loud imperious ring. You can feel how unpleasant the working conditions are.
Anyone who has had to deal with the people or impossible bosses will find something to identify with. You will cheer when Sam starts retaliating.
In case you were wondering about the title, the chef has demanded the staff use the term “fully committed” rather than “full” or “fully booked.”
This is the last TheaterWorks show at the Hartford Athenneum. The theater will open its 2019-20 season in October in its renovated home.
For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.
This content is courtesy Shore Publishing and zip06.com