In dear old Cleveburg, where a number of high-quality restaurants have gone toes-up with depressing regularity, it's hard to imagine the intensity of hypercompetitive New York City dining. In Manhattan, a trendy eatery is often booked solid for weeks or even months in advance, leading desperate gastronomes to pull every VIP string or negotiating ploy they can muster to get their name on the reservation list. This is the carnivorous culture that drives Fully Committed, by Becky Mode, a one-man show at Beck Center that is far more fascinating as a performance challenge than as enlightening theater.
The man on the hot seat is Sam, an aspiring actor (surprise, surprise) who is holding down the reservation fort while his supervisor is supposedly stuck in traffic. From the moment Sam shucks off his coat, all the phone lines are blinking with calls from society matrons, out-of-town hopefuls, and assistants to various A-listers. Juggling the voices and mannerisms of more than 30 different characters, inside the restaurant and out, lone actor Nicholas Koesters is challenged to keep all the parts distinct and amusing while performing at a breakneck pace for almost 90 minutes. Ultimately, his success feels more like survival than transcendence, since the script itself is both less amusing and less insightful than it might have been, given the material.
In a crummy downstairs room below the white-linen bistro, Sam sits at a plank table propped on sawhorses and ricochets between three fairly constant streams of communication: h`is outside phone, the intercom to the mâitre d', and a wall-mounted hot line to the imperious chef himself. Among all the disparate personalities assailing our put-upon hero, the one common denominator is that everyone wants something from Sam, at all times, and they want it now.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell's aide calls, requesting an all-vegan tasting menu for 17. A mobster asks that someone come to his table and sing "The Lady Is a Tramp" to his wife when they arrive for their anniversary dinner. And a near-hysterical woman insists that she made a reservation weeks before that now has mysteriously disappeared. Displaying a level of patient diplomacy that would put our State Department to shame, Sam tries to smooth ruffled feathers of preening dinnerati while obsequiously responding to every whim uttered by the chef, who sounds a bit like Wolfman Jack. Playwright Mode attempts to add depth to this roundelay of pleadings by showing that the chef has a vulnerable side and how Sam tries to do something nice for his sweet, undemanding father. But the supposedly heartwarming conclusion never ignites a spark.
What does work, however, is Koesters' remarkable performance. Under the direction of Curt Arnold, the immensely talented Koesters clicks into one characterization after another with machine-tooled precision. And even when his portrayals are clichéd or familiar (Sam's agent sounds identical to Harvey Fierstein), the result is captivating. If the script were of a similar quality, this would truly be a memorable feast.
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