Good morning reservations; could you hold please?
Poor, harried, abused Sam, otherwise an actor, is the only reservationist who showed up for his shift at New York’s current “it” restaurant. You know the one – where reservations open on a single day each third month, clients are color coded in accordance with importance, many assuming they rate higher than ersatz reality dictates, and the price of a meal equates with rent on a studio apartment. It’s early December. They’re booked into March.
When Fully Committed was first presented at The Vineyard Theater in 1999, foodie culture wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. We didn’t have endless preparation and competition television shows. Celebrity chefs, rarely known outside cuisine circles, were celebrated for cooking, not personality or product lines. Exorbitant restaurants were old school exceptions.
Playwright Becky Mode has somewhat updated her piece, changing celebrity names and calling out the venue’s specialty as “molecular gastronomy.” No, she didn’t make it up. In the film The Hundred Foot Journey, a young chef executes just that at a haute Parisian establishment. In fact, Mode’s “Smoked cuttlefish risotto in a cloud of dry ice infused with pipe tobacco” is an unnecessary stretch when you see the real thing. While much has changed, however, more remains the same.
When Mrs. Vandevere insists on a table, Sam consults business manager Oscar: “Samuel, Her husband makes a lot of money. Google him. I think he invented Botox.”
Sam juggles three phones, a desk model with a headset and multiple lines, an appropriately red wall phone – the hotline to Chef, and his own cell which has to be placed on top of a pipe while standing on a chair in order to get decent reception. On this, he speaks with his craggy, Midwestern father who wants him home for Christmas (he may have to work) and fellow performer Jerry, meanly lording auditions over his “friend.” Sam’s agent naturally calls him “sweetie” and says to concentrate on “small victories.” (Please tell me this is dated.)
Mrs. Winslow, coming in from the Midwest presses “Are you sure you don’t have anything darlin’? We are two teeny tiny people…” Then, later, “Ever hear of a little thing called Yelp?…”
There are over 40 characters. Tyler Feguson plays every part, on both ends of the phone line. Though he tends to repeat hand gestures and Jean Claude’s accent sounds like Danny Kaye or Jonathan Winters, most voices are broadly different and turn on a dime. Nothing is simply resolved. Three and four supplicants are handled simultaneously between imperious calls by Chef or Jean-Claude. The funniest ones add physicality. A woman screaming at her kids walks into something and bangs her knee. Sam puts her on hold. When he picks up her line again, he limps.
Bryce from Gwyneth Paltrow’s office wants a table for 15 Saturday night at 8:00, a legume tasting menu with a laundry list of stipulations and, as Gwyneth doesn’t really like the lighting, will send someone in to change the sconce bulbs near her table.
A photographer from Bon Appétit sits in the entry hall all day in revenge for a poor quote by the magazine. No one informs Sam of the staff meal – he’s starving. An 85 year-old wants to know why they don’t honor the AARP discount. The Maitre’d has no idea who Alan Greenspan is. It turns out Sam’s immediate superior is at a job interview elsewhere…The beleaguered reservationist is unfailingly polite to callers while visibly fraying. He never sits still.
Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn insists on speaking to Maitre’d Jean-Claude or Chef directly. Clearly old money, she’s accustomed to cowed acquiescence and persists ever more stridently. It turns out her guest is Andre Bishop, Artistic Director of Lincoln Center where Sam has, wonder of wonders, a callback. An opportune deal is brokered. In fact, at the end, exhausted and dehydrated, the underdog manages to leave his lit-up phone with something to which he can look forward.
I myself took reservations at two very posh restaurants in my callow youth. Everything co-creator Mark Setlock depicts is accurate. Much worse, in fact, is omitted.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson is mostly fast and amusing.
Director Jason Moore is particularly good with physical comedy. He uses the set to best advantage.
Derek McLane’s Set is terrific, but swallows up the performance which should not be in a house this size. (No fault of the designer) Intimacy is part of what it has going for it. I liked the piece better the first time, but if you haven’t Fully Committed or are a fan of the Modern Family actor, it’s fun.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Fully Committed by Becky Mode
Based on characters created by Becky Mode and Mark Setlock
Featuring Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Directed by Jason Moore
149 West 45th Street
Through July 24, 2016