I would rather wait on hold for an hour and 15 minutes than sit through the Cellar Theater’s Fully Committed again. (And so, I surmise, would some of you, fellow audience members from last Saturday night. I don’t want to be a narc, but I caught two of you dozing off.) At least on hold I could, like, you know, multitask, which is exactly the thing that makes playwright Becky Mode’s one-man show so terribly difficult.
Because the individual who plays Sam — an out-of-work actor biding his time as a reservation-setter at a swanky, super-popular New York restaurant — must also portray the 30-odd other characters who call him, Fully Committed is the kind of play that needs to be rehearsed to death — to be tighter than Lance Armstrong’s glutes, you might say — and then still come off as “in the moment” at performance time. Simply put, it’s a bitch to accomplish.
You can tell that David Maloof is trying his darndest; I mean, really, this guy is hustling. His Sam is an overall nice dude just trying to pick up slack in a nightmarish situation: It’s the holidays and Bob, his co-reservationist, is “out sick;” Sam’s got to man the lines alone and it ain’t pretty.
Aside from transitioning between several characters, Maloof is also contending with pre-recorded characters (voiced by him). The trouble with the recordings is that, despite the noble efforts of the sound designer and board operator, the reaction times can be really off and the jokes don’t land. If Maloof takes too long to deliver a line, he gets cut off; if he speaks too clippily, an awkward pause fills the space (and I don’t mean in the Pinteresque sense). At times I wondered whether the actor or the character was
Lisa Gerlich successfully recreates the soul-killing fluorescent light that illuminates so many workplaces (cough, newsrooms, cough), filling Debra Coates’ suitably shabby set — the dungeonlike bowels of the eatery — with sickly gray-purple glow. The Cellar’s stage is populated with a few boxes overflowing with garland, but on their own they are not enough to give the viewer a sense that Fully Committed takes place during the winter holidays, which is important. If a co-worker flakes out at any other time of the year, what else is new? SSDD. But no one wants to be at work, even with droves of minions at their beck and call, during the holidays. Factor in the shopping to be done, the family to be met and you’ve got it: Everyone’s got enough on their holly-trimmed plate.
Sam, for one, has to fight for a part in a Lincoln Center production, figure out how to land Christmas day off so he can visit his lonely father, and of course, find a way to pay those overdue bills. At work, everyone else’s problems — from the customers calling every five seconds to the kitchen staff buzzing in intermittently — become his own: A supermodel’s assistant, Bryce, must hastily procure a table for his employer (furnished with a vegan tasting menu and halogen lights); Sam’s boss needs the diarrhea mopped from the bathroom floor and a helicopter ride negotiated.
It’s tough to keep track of who’s who, as Maloof affects the same limp-wristed manner for several of the characters, and his facial expressions are not always diverse or quick enough to signal a change in character. One wishes that he could have gotten a more mime-like “turn” going, but I suppose that would have been quite the cardio workout. (Still, director Kevin Murray keeps Maloof far too boxed up behind his centerstage desk; the lack of movement could have put anyone to sleep.)
I kept waiting for Maloof to lose it as Sam, especially after the diarrhea incident. He gets to the point of such abandon that he directly insults his employer, the chef’s Orange Ruffy, but we don’t really see him get there. I wanted him to throw something, stab his datebook with a pencil; I wanted him to flip off the phone or bite into it. Something, anything to show us that this guy is going out of his mind (and that he actually has a personality). Instead we got an exhausting hour-plus performance with no climax — something we’re confident we could have achieved while waiting on hold. •
Through Feb 17
$23, $20 seniors, $13 students
800 W. Ashby