Theatre Mirror Reviews - " Fully Committed "

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2000 by Miriam F. d'Amato

" Fully Committed "

Reviewed by Miriam F. d'Amato

Billed as an expose of the restaurant business, "Fully Committed" (by Becky Mode) really isn't. Sam (and others), played by Mark Setlock, is the harried young man who takes calls for reservations in the basement of a four-star restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. To most of the callers, he says, "Fully committed." It's Christmas, and he can't promise anything until February. But for the famous and the rich, as well as for one enterprising hopeful who sends a substantial bribe, he manages to find a table. But didn't we all know that anyway? And are the desperate pleas from callers and the specific requests for a vegan meal and a special table really enough to keep us laughing?

In between calls from would-be diners, Sam talks to the profane and temperamental chef (most fictional chefs are temperamental), to the maitre d'hote, to the man who shares his job, to his agent (Sam is an actor hoping for a callback), to his widowed father, to his brother, and to a fellow actor who is-sort of-a friend. From all these conversations emerges a plot: Sam wants a part in a production at Lincoln Center, listens with some envy to the friend has gotten a callback for another production, and wants to spend Christmas with his father but can't get a replacement to take over his job. With a little scheming, Sam satisfies all his desires, including one for mild revenge, and everything is knitted together neatly at the end.

"Fully Committed" depends heavily on the old vaudeville technique of repetition. First time, information; second time, recognition; third time, fourth time, fifth time, laughter. All the callers are introduced with taglines-"This is Mrs. Wasabi. W for Wisconsin"-or "tag-tones"-haughty, desperate, snobbish, conniving--and, from then on, each repeated call gets a knee-jerk laugh before the predictable conversation begins. Around James Noone's marvelous set-and it is terrific-are innumerable (that is, about five too many) signs forbidding reservations for Ned Finlay, whose name means nothing to me--just one more in-joke I missed. So you wait and wait for Finlay to call, which he does near the end of the play, and guess what? He gets a reservation from Sam! There is also a sample of sophomoric bathroom humor that makes one wonder why, in a four-star restaurant, there is no attendant in the ladies' room.

But to get the jokes, you really have to know the people or the locale (Bob is stuck on the L.I.E., which, it took me five minutes to figure out, must be the Long Island Expressway) or depend on stereotypes, of which there are aplenty. Exmple: the senior citizen who misunderstood the "maitre dee hotel" when he told her he'd "take care of her." My knee didn't jerk much. Eighty minutes, without an intermission, is too long, particularly when Sam is so frenetic, and the three ringing telephones began to be irritating after the first fifteen. Setlock isn't really as good as all that, though he probably would be if the skit were shorter. The voices are high or low, loud and soft, which doesn't make it easy to tell them apart after a while, and the women aren't really women, but a man imitating women with a little hint of gay affectation.

But most of the audience laughed, and Setlock got a few bravo's and a lot of applause. Interestingly, the parking lot attendant across from the Wilbur reported to a friend that the people he gave keys to were angry. Too short, too shallow, and too much like TV but not as good.

The Wilbur is a lovely theatre, though. It's cozy and intimate, just right for a one-man show. Too bad this wasn't it. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company and Broadway in Boston. At the Wilbur Theatre through January 7, 2001

"Fully Committed" (till 7 January)
Ye Wilbur Theatre, 106 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617) 931-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide