Tim Leininger, Contributing Critic
It’s one of those near inevitable stops on the way to success for an actor to work at a restaurant, dealing with temperamental patrons, apathetic co-workers, and a pretentious supervisor or chef who feels that their work is the greatest gift ever given to man.
Such is the case for Sam in Becky Mode’s “Fully Committed,” produced by TheaterWorks Hartford and staged at the theater at The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford while the TheaterWorks theater finishes its reservations.
“Fully Committed” runs through Sept. 1.
In “Fully Committed,” Sam (Jamison Stern) has the perfect storm of a day at work. He works in the basement of a high end New York City restaurant where the chef specializes in “molecular gastronomy” – it’s a real thing –with ingredients such as edible dirt, answering the reservation line.
He’s left alone managing the reservation line, his dad wants to know if he’s coming home for Christmas, he’s waiting to see if he’s gets a call back for a play at Lincoln Center, all while taking calls from a colorful menagerie of people looking to make last minute reservations at a restaurant that is as the chef wants it said, “fully committed” three months in advance.
Oh, and “Fully Committed” is a one man show, so Stern plays every roll in the show…about 40 of them.
The title isn’t just a reference to the chef’s preferred use of being fully booked; it’s an accurate statement on what has to come from Stern every night in order to have a good show.
There is a plethora of voices and physicalities that Stern must embody in order to make all the different roles feel unique and discernable from the other characters.
For the most part, he pulls it off. There is, on occasion, the slight bleeding of voices between a couple characters, but otherwise, Stern spends the 80 minutes of stage time frenetically bouncing back and forth between the roles.
Bill Fennelly’s direction keeps Stern moving around the meticulously detailed set by Brian Prather. I particularly love that Sam’s absent supervisor, Bob, has a desk littered with garbage from fast food restaurants, noting his disdain for the food where he works.
The voracious pace by Fennelly and Stern ratchets up Sam’s despair with each phone call he takes, whether it is his bragging actor friend to his brother chastising him for not being able to visit for Christmas, or the stress laden employees serving the guests. This doesn’t even include the myriad of patrons including a representative from Gwyneth Paltrow’s office with an insane list of requests, a suspected gangster who wants “Luck Be a Lady” sung for his parents’ dinner, and the chef’s mentor who arrives for dinner but his reservation is missing.
“Fully Committed” ultimately boils down to Stern and his ability to juggle the various roles and switching to each one at the snap of the fingers.
His ability to keep moving at a breakneck pace and increasing Sam’s anxiety throughout made the audience the night I was in attendance with so invested that as the play moves towards its dramatic conclusion, they were vocally encouraging him to make the choices they wanted him to make.
The audience was fully committed to his story by the end as every audience to great theater should be.
Theater: Aetna Theatre at The Wadsworth Atheneum
Location: 600 Main St., Hartford
Production: Written by Becky Mode; Directed by Bill Fennelly; Set Design by Brian Prather; Lighting Design by John Lasiter; Sound Design by Frederick Kennedy
Show times: Evening: Tuesday through Thursday 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. Matinee: Saturday 4 p.m., Sunday 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25 to $70. Available online at www.theaterworkshartford.org, by phone at 860-