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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
When I first saw Becky Mode's modern day upstairs-downstairs comedy, at the Vineyard Theater in 1999, Fully Committed managed to keep me fully engaged. Mark Setlock not only helped create the characters who make Sam's life miserable for some ninety minutes , but actually played Sam. The intimacy of that theater and seeing a genuinely unknown actor deal with the hellish demands of the job he needs, the disappointments of the acting jobs he's not getting, as well as conecting with his loving but lonely dad, made for an authentic theatrical experience.
As Fully Committed's Sam leaves that stressful basement on a happy note, so Setlock's gig helped to free him from part-time restaurant jobs. The show s success also gave star turns for other then still unknown actors, Christopher Fitzggerald and Roger Bart, at its extended run at the Cherry Lane Theater — as well as many others in the countless productions throughout the country and abroad.
While Becky Mode didn't invent the solo show, no doubt the success of her satirical romp ratcheted up the popularity and durability of that genre's sub-genre: the solo in which the actor on stage plays multiple characters. The hit and star making potential of such shows has in recent years been exemplified by Buyer and Cellar which also has a struggling actor working in a basement (albeit a far less grungy one than Sam's office).
Had the 21-year-old Jesse Tyler Ferguson not gotten cast as one of the sailors in a Broadway revival of On the Town , he might well have auditioned to play Sam when Mark Setlock left Fully Committed premiered at the Vineyard. Had he been cast, he would have been as much a still struggling actor as Setlock and those who followed him. But Ferguson went on to play the delightful Leaf Coneybear in the award-winning 25th Putnam County Spelling Bea, to take on various Shakespeare clowns in Shakespeare in the Park productions and tp become a TV sitcom star as Mitchell Pritchett in the Emmy-awarded Modern Family.
To bring Mode's modish foodie romp back to New York after years as a regional and abroad staple calls for a star rather than an unknown. And to get a star to take on this challenging role, means presenting it on rather than off-Broadway.
I can't think of a more engaging and up to the challenge of taking on Sam plus the multiple characters keeping the phones in that basement room buzzing, than Ferguson. His successful career notwithstanding, it's understandable why he welcomed this gig since it's the first time he's actually the main player on Broadway.
While the Lyceum is a Broadway house it's not one of its behemoths. Consequently this revival is as close to intimacy as you can get on the Great White Way. The problem is that though the venue is not overwhelmingly big and Ferguson brings enormous charm and energy to this demanding role, Fully Committed hasn't aged all that well.
Sure it's still amusing and fun to see Ferguson segue from character to character. Certainly, the snobbish foodie culture with its celebrity chefs is still with us. (My companion spotted Bobby Flay, a current much in the news chef mentioned by the fictional Jean-Claude, taking a seat near us).
As for the staging. . . Derek McLane has transformed the Lyceum space into an appropriately dreary place framed with the building's plumbing and a ceiling full of chairs Sam's callers hope to fill. Director Jason Moore has dreamed up plenty of stage business to keep Ferguson on the move. And Becky Mode has updated the script (more au courant callers and culinary references, a cell phone for Sam's personal calls). But somehow what felt fresh and smart long ago now seems too slight to warrant this high profile production.
Given Ferguson's big fan base and our appetite for fun entertainment, Fully Committed remains enjoyable, even if more an appetizer than a really full meal. New York audiences will certainly have fun speculating about real counterparts to the unnamed restaurant whose "molecular gastronomy" accounts for 3-month stretches of being "fully committed." (11 Madison is likely to be frequently named).
There's also this. Anyone who's seen American Psycho , the splashy, big-cast sendup of 80s ultra-consumerism, will see Sam's work place as Dorsia, a hard to get into restaurant viewed as a status symbol worth killing for by the muscled ueber consumer Patrick Bateman. For sure, Bateman and his fellow financier pals who lunch on dishes like "venison with yogurt sauce" and "fiddlehead ferns with mango slices" would like to try Chef Jean-Claude's "smoked cuttlefish risotto in a cloud of dry ice infused with pipe tobacco."
Mr. Ferguson gives a more diverse and warm performance than Benjamin Walker. If his characters are sometimes a bit hard to tell apart, he does enough of them with amazing smoothness.
A final problem affecting the durability of the play's humor. Though doing menial work to pay the rent has long been an accepted part of an actor's life, Sam's being at the beck and call of the unnamed restaurant's narcissistic 1 per cent clientele and the irascible chef isn't as funny these days when it hits home with a much broader segment of the population. While American Psycho's Bateman, and Donald Trump might well call for a reservation, not so the 99 per centers' champion Bernie Sanders, wouldn't be caught dead there.
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Fully Committed by Becky Mode
Based on characters created by Becky Mode and Mark Setlock
Directed by Jason Moore
Cast: Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Scenic Design by Derek McLane
Costume Design by Sarah Laux
Lighting Design by Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Stage Manager: Beverly Jenkins
Running Time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Lyceum, W. 45h Street
From 4/02/16; opening 4/25/16; closing 7/31/16
Tuesday at 7:00pm,Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00PM, with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00PM and Sunday matinees at 3:00PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/27/16 press performance
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