Becky Mode’s “Fully Committed” is that one-person play for theatergoers who hate one-person plays. Which is most theatergoers.
“Fully Committed” receives its first Broadway production, which opened Monday at the Lyceum Theatre, after becoming a surprise Off Broadway hit back in 1999.
Fans of this restaurant-reservationist comedy will not be disappointed, and fans of “Modern Family” will be delighted to see Jesse Tyler Ferguson live on stage playing not one character but a few dozen.
What lifts “Fully Committed” from the doldrums of having to watch one actor on stage playing one character for 90 minutes are all the people who call Sam to make a reservation at an absurdly exclusive restaurant.
The original publicity for “Fully Committed” went out of its way to disguise the fact that it was a one-man show, its ad focused on the many other characters. Mark Setlock, who originated the role of a put-upon reservationist manning the phones in the dingy basement of the restaurant, made us believe we’d met each of those callers. And so does Ferguson.
Under Jason Moore‘s otherwise spot-on direction, a few of Ferguson’s haughtier female callers get blurred. He’s better with the men, and surprisingly, the two characters that emerge as most distinctive are Sam’s recently widowed father and his baby-carrying brother, who insists he make it home for Christmas to be with the grieving family. Maybe that’s why these two characters stand out: There’s nothing funny about them, and they give the show real heart.
Otherwise, the people on the phones treat Sam like total crap, which is what “Fully Committed” is all about: people’s horrible behavior. Because Sam is a nobody, the chef and the maitre’d upstairs can abuse him. But for the people wanting a reservation and unable to get one, Sam is the one in control, and he doesn’t so much abuse them as toy with them. It’s payback for all the gruff he gets.
It’s only food, of course. But in the end, it’s so much more. It’s ego. It’s prestige. It’s power. It’s getting away with silly, outrageous demands because you’re the boss. Or you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, whose assistant calls the restaurant so yet another assistant can be sent to change the lightbulbs near her table for 16 so that the ambiance is just right.
Sam, of course, is an actor who hasn’t been on stage in a while. Late in the show, his agent’s assistant — the agent herself never deigns to speak to Sam — tells Sam that he isn’t getting cast because he doesn’t project “entitlement” in his auditions. It’s an odd word. We might expect he’d be told he lacks “confidence.”
I don’t recall Setlock’s performance that well, except that it was impressive. He was, however, an unknown actor at the time who probably had held a Sam-like job not long before he opened in “Fully Committed.” At least, that’s the impression he conveyed.
Ferguson is a big TV star, so a certain poignancy is lost. Then again, I do vividly recall Ferguson’s break-through turn in the Off-Broadway musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” He played a very cocky adolescent. He projected entitlement even then.