note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Susan Daniels
John Kuntz is fully committed to any role he takes on. So committed, in fact, that in his current project, “Fully Committed,” he portrays 40 wildly diverse characters in a strikingly funny one-man show, currently running through December 23 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston. As Sam, an unemployed actor, Kuntz brings to life a host of disparate characters, by single-handedly manning the red-hot reservation line at Manhattan’s number one restaurant. Using coercion, threats, bribes, innocence and guile, desperate and determined callers coerce and cajole him in order to land a prime reservation at the trendy dining spot.
With a flick of his wrist, a tilt of his head, a clearly defined stance, or a specific gaze, Kuntz creates a motley group of callers. But mostly it’s his accents that evoke the multiple characters. Throughout the two act play, Kuntz nails a French accent, Indian accent, Middle Eastern and Japanese, a Spanish one, a German, and an Irish lilt as well -- all with the outward ease of a linguistic expert working at the UN.
Domestically, he seems to cover the entire country, using a Shriner’s convention of dialects from every region. There is Bunny Vanderlear, Manhattan’s East Side socialite, who probably sits on the other side of the phone line, dripping in pearls and perfume; Sam’s father from Indiana whose flat, Midwestern voice ends each conversation with an endearing Okee-Dokee!; the Southern purr from the charming lady from Dixie; the multiple phone calls from the nasally offensive Bryce, an annoyingly effeminate, overly eager, wanting-to-please-at-all-costs New York assistant to fashion model Naomi Campbell, who requires a 15-person vegan tasting menu sans salt, fat, sugar, carbs, and female waitpersons; the competitive actor Jerry, the unctuous asshole who enjoys boasting about his audition and call back; the loud, boring, obnoxious Bob, Sam’s fellow reservationist, who says he is tied up in traffic, but is really interviewing for a job at Bed and Bath -- all of which is unknowingly revealed by his girlfriend when she calls the restaurant looking for him; Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, the pushy New Yorker with airs of entitlement and connections up the kazoo, who repeatedly calls to speak with John Paul, the top dog at the restaurant, who refuses all her attempts while referring to her as a dog; and about 25 other equally defined characters.
So, what starts out as a day from Hell for Sam turns into a red letter experience for him. By adopting some of the manipulative behaviors of his callers, he ends up with all the booty -- professionally, personally, and pecuniarily. And in a nod to the revolt in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” we avidly root for the main character throughout the play.
Anyone unfamiliar with the show might think the script was written specifically for the multi-award-winning Kuntz. But “Fully Committed” was first produced in 1999 and is drawn from playwright Becky Mode’s job at an impossible-to-get-into four star restaurant in New York City as well as her experiences as a former actress and coat check girl.
According to Kuntz, the biggest challenge was memorizing who comes next in the script. “There is no clue, unless something specific is going on. Otherwise, it’s totally random, and if I didn’t make up some kind of memory game, it would be easy to get lost,” he said in a short telephone conversation the evening after press night.
True to form, director Spiro Veloudos deftly guides Kuntz and gang around the stage. And given the premise, I can’t help but think that their rehearsals must have been a hoot.
The set by Skip Curtiss is the restaurant’s basement office, in early December. Messy and utilitarian, with a cord of holiday lights strung along the wall, the setting -- three grey desks, overflowing waste baskets, papers and bulletin boards -- at first glance, easily places Sam at the bottom of the pecking order.
And sound designer Dewey Dellay works up a convincing arrangement of rings, buzzes, and sporadic muzak, adding to the increasingly schizophrenic quality of the play.
A master of disguise, Kuntz feels that developing the characters was something like “finding a shell on the beach and trying to fit into it” by changing the shape and bringing in “your own flourishes.”
Gestures and ornamentations aside, with this performance, the Boston actor/playwright very well may be adding another best solo trophy to his mantel.
“Fully Committed,” through December 23. Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 617-437-7172 or go to www.lyricstage.com.