Photo - Joan Marcus
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
If there's an award for onstage high energy, scribble in the name of Jesse Tyler Ferguson. This popular redhead (TV's Modern Family and theater's On the Town and Shakespeare in the Park) wallops a non-stop performance as the harried wannabe actor, Sam, in Becky Mode's Fully Committed. In fact, he not only portrays the out-of-work actor taking reservations at a fashionable restaurant, but Ferguson takes on some 40 other characters who come at you so fast that who's counting.
In the windowless restaurant basement set of the Lyceum Theater, Sam juggles three phones plus his private cell phone, holding it high at an awkward angle to get cell service. Since it's holiday season and the restaurant is especially hot right now, all the calls are relentless and demanding. Gritting his teeth while he remains amazingly even-tempered, Sam puts up with calls from the likes of Bryce, the cheerily aggressive assistant to Gwyneth Paltrow confirming she wants an "all-vegan tasting menu. That’s a locally-sourced, no-fat, no-salt, no-dairy, no-sugar, no-chicken, no-meat, no-fish, no-soy, no rice, no foam, no corn tasting menu" and that's for 15 people.
There is also old-moneyed Bunny Vandevere who simply must have a table that evening with her husband (who may have invented Botox) and they are bringing the important Malcolm Gladwell. Yes, the restaurant is overbooked by 25 but the Vandeveres are super-VIPs and of course get their table. To nobodies from out of town, Sam must explain that the restaurant has a three-month wait list and right now they are "fully committed." Then there's nouveau-riche socialite Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, outraged at being put on hold for two minutes with unacceptable music.
What Sam puts up with is intense humiliation from his bosses, a vain celebrity chef, a pretentious maitre d', and a passive-aggressive fellow struggling actor who calls to taunt Sam with boasts of his latest success. In addition, the kitchen that never sends him his lunch.
There are plenty of laughs. There is also a palpable insert of heart and family guilt when his father, recently widowed, calls from Ohio, hoping Sam will come home for Christmas. Sam hears the loneliness in his father's voice and is dismayed when he tells him he must work that day. Still, his good-natured father does not complain and ends the talks with the usual, "Okey-doke. Adios amigo".
Directed at a swift pace by Jason Moore (Avenue Q), Ferguson grabs onto his characters with gusto, using as much as he can of Derek McLane's over-stuffed basement space packed with file cabinets, a desk, chairs and a lot of pipes. However, Fully Committed feels like a small play on the middle of a big stage and would seem more comfortable in an off-Broadway house. Sam's final dash up a high flight of stairs has an over-theatrical phoniness but Ferguson's performance is nothing less than fully committed.
While the play is not more than a 80-minute endurance test for Ferguson, it provides a satisfying ending when Sam gets the phone call of his dreams from Lincoln Center.
149 -West 45nd Street
Previews: April 1, 2016 Opened: April 25, 2016. Closes July 24, 2016
80 minutes. No intermission
Playwright: Becky Mode
Directed by Jason Moore
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors