By Richard Ades
And I thought I had it bad.
During the two years I waited tables, my worst experience came when our cook fell off the wagon and showed up drunk. When the lunchtime crowd arrived, I had to keep dropping off orders in the kitchen even though I knew it was like dropping them down a well. I then had to make excuses to our customers about why their burgers and Reubens never seemed to materialize.
But all that was a walk in the park compared what Sam goes through in Fully Committed. Working the reservation desk at an exclusive New York restaurant, the would-be actor regularly has to put up with an egotistical chef, an uncooperative maître d’ and self-important customers who make impossible demands.
Written by Becky Mode, the one-man play follows Sam on a particularly difficult day. A co-worker has failed to show up, leaving Sam to deal with all the crazies on his own. Adding to the pressure, his father keeps calling and asking if he’s coming home for Christmas. Plus, another actor makes frequent calls whose apparent purpose is to rub his own success in Sam’s face.
One of my quibbles with a show like this—in which one person plays a plethora of roles—is that many of the characters invariably come off as stereotypes. It’s hard not to fall back on ethnic clichés in such a situation, especially if your aim is to provoke laughs.
In CATCO’s production, however, actor Jeff Horst and director Steven Anderson avoid taking that easy route. Sure, the chef is a haughty Brit and the maître d’ is a snooty Frenchman, but the 40 or so characters seldom fit into overused pigeonholes. They may not be as grittily believable as Michael S. Brewer’s messy set, but they’re far from one-note creations.
“Fully committed,” by the way, means a restaurant is completed booked, but it also describes an actor who invests himself totally in his characters. That’s something Horst does many times over.
Particularly memorable are the AWOL co-worker, who exudes an oily Jack Nicholson-like aura; the gangster who caresses himself while speaking in a voice filled with menace and power; and Sam’s folksy father, who is too self-effacing to admit how desperately he wants his son to come home for the holidays.
And then there’s Sam himself, who seems to have inherited his dad’s decency. Or maybe he’s decided that being calm and diplomatic is the only way to survive in a job that regularly requires him to walk through a minefield filled with explosive egos.
Whatever his motivation, he manages to keep himself together through most of his hectic day, but he eventually starts to lose his equilibrium. And that’s when things start to get interesting.
Until then, truthfully, this supposed comedy is more annoying than funny, with characters who are as unpleasant as the constantly ringing phones. For much of its running time, the show’s main draw is the opportunity to see Horst earn his keep in what reportedly is his first role as a member of Actors’ Equity.
But that should be enough for many viewers. After all, Horst’s performance, even more than his union card, proves that he’s a full-fledged professional.
CATCO will present Fully Committed through Nov. 24 in Studio Two, Riffe Center, 77 S. High St. Show times are 11 a.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Tickets are $45, $11.50 for Wednesday matinees. 614-469-0939 or catco.org.