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A very full plate
Becky Mode’s ‘Fully Committed’ at Theatre Horizon
Theatre Horizon's production of Becky Mode’s Fully Committed devotes itself (I’m tempted to say “commits itself”) to being a showpiece for a physically adept solo performer. It’s a lightweight comedy, but affords a great opportunity for Michael Doherty, one of this area’s best comic actors. (He also excelled at Theatre Horizon as Jack in Into the Woods, and Leaf in The Putnam County Spelling Bee.)
Doherty’s character, Sam, works as a phone reservation clerk at a ridiculously trendy restaurant that has clientele flying in from distant places, even from Kuwait. It is completely booked months in advance and Sam is instructed to use the euphemism “fully committed.”
The play has two disparate things going for it. One is theatergoers’ familiarity with eating in restaurants. The other is the unfamiliarity and downright exoticism of restaurants of this particular type. Thus, the audience feels comfortable, and also like voyeurs.
Sam is a struggling actor who’s been working too long in the restaurant business but hasn’t landed an acting role that might allow him to quit this disagreeable job. He is out there alone against a nasty world, which explains a large part of this show’s appeal. We empathize and sympathize with him, though I’m left with a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste because of the sourness that he has to endure.
The more things change
Doherty (with the assistance of director Kathryn MacMillan) channels an assortment of unpleasant stereotypes. Sam is abused by a narcissistic chef and maître d’ and by obnoxious callers who demand special treatment. Doherty enacts each of the callers and mimics their gestures. His funniest impersonation is an assistant to Gwyneth Paltrow, described by the playwright as “extremely effeminate.” Subtlety clearly is not an ingredient on this menu.
Doherty changes personae with his voice and his body language. He juggles three phones and close to 40 characters, giving both sides of each conversation, while highlighting the plaintive nature of Sam’s character. In particular, he shows tender concern for his recently widowed Midwestern father, and wants to fly home to join him for a family Christmas, if only his boss will give him time off.
There have been some updates to the play since the 1999 original. Some of the play’s best lines are still descriptions of menu items, such as “crispy deer lichen atop a slowly deflating, scent-filled pillow dusted with edible dirt.” Philip Johnson was the most prominent architect of his era, and here his name is replaced with Frank Gehry’s. Model Naomi Campbell was the most demanding diva at the end of the 20th century, but Gwyneth Paltrow here usurps her. In the show’s current Broadway revival, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of TV’s Modern Family) inserts Sofia Vegara as the butt of a joke; Doherty uses a different name, but it’s funny nonetheless.
What, When, Where
Fully Committed, by Becky Mode. Kathryn MacMillan directed. Through June 5, 2016 at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb St., Norristown. 610-283-2230 or theatrehorizon.org.
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