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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
This isn't the head shot that out-of-work actor Sam, the pivotal character in Fully Committed sends to his agent. But it pretty well sums up his frustration with the instrument that feeds him with non-stop requests for reservations at the nameless crème-de-la crème restaurant which employs him.
Sam's subterranean basement office gives no hint of the luxurious atmosphere above. No samples of Chef Claude's fabulous cuisine to nibble on while the harried reservation clerk deals with the barrage of reservation requests from celebrities and those who would like to rub shoulders with them. In fact, the pace of running from his desk to a special phone connecting him to Chef Claude is so frantic that he doesn't get a chance to nibble at so much as a Snickers bar. His hunger for any kind of food disappears completely after he's forced at Chef Claude's verbal gunpoint to make a quick trip upstairs to clean up a mess that could kill the restaurant's standing in the Zagat guide.
The title of Becky Mode's play alludes to the pretentious euphemisms that pervade the upper echelons of the culinary establishment. As the dishes have fancy names so being full up or fully booked becomes "fully committed." Ms. Mode, who currently writes for the Cosby show, no longer needs to make ends meet with part-time restaurant jobs. However, she has followed the popular "write about what you know" advice commonly given to young writers, by mining her stints at establishments like Bouley for this her first stage play.
Mark Setlock, who deftly and with lightning swift timing plays Sam and the more than two dozen callers from inside and outside the restaurant is also no stranger to the role of restaurant employee. His input during the play's development accounts for the secondary author credit "based on characters developed by Becky Mode and Mark Setlock." Many of the characters are mere quick sketches to skewer the types who jockey for key playing positions in the Manhattan status game and for the fun of dropping illustrious names such as Phillip Johnson, Henry Jravus and Diane Sawyer. Nina and Tim Zagat do double duty as mentioned celebrities and as triggers for the crisis that propels the lean cuisine plot. A handful of the more ordinary people Sam talks to come off as fully-rounded, flesh and blood characters. The most endearing of these include:
. . . The irascible chef whose acute sense of taste does not extend to being able to tell a nonentity from a celebrity and whose tough bossiness hides a fragile culinary ego. . . . Sam's lonely and recently widowed dad. He's eager to have his son spend Christmas with him, but, unlike the strangers Sam must deal with, is never unreasonably demanding.
. . . A feisty senior citizen who managed to snag a reservation but left the famous eaterie sufficiently unimpressed and unintimidated to complain about the fact that her AARP discount was not honored, the small portions of what the restaurant euphemistically tags as its "sampling menu" and the fact that these dishes ranged from lukewarm to "freezing""cold.
As for the center of this modern day upstairs-downstairs comedy, our one day visit to Sam's world of hellish events ends happily. He heeds his agent's advice to "project an air of entitlement" and reclaims his self-respect and sense of humor.
Director Nicholas Martin, whose ability to give a one-person performance a full-fledged play sensibility we first admired in Full Gallop (our review), applies the same skill to Ms. Mode's script. He keeps the sole actor moving and has once again enlisted James Noone to provide a richly detailed set. While my leanings tend towards plays with more than one actor, Fully Committed did manage to keep me fully engaged.