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Fully Committed

Becky Mode's wry new comedy "Fully Committed" may achieve what few other solo shows do: longevity. For all their kudos, many such shows don't survive long after the original performer calls it quits. But in "Fully Committed," Mode has actually written a play rather than strung together a series of vignettes or anecdotes on a common theme. It just happens to be performed by one actor impersonating a couple dozen characters. Fortunately, that actor, Mark Setlock, has comic chops sufficient to devour an entire season of comedians on "Saturday Night Live."

Becky Mode’s wry new comedy “Fully Committed” may achieve what few other solo shows do: longevity. For all their kudos, many such shows don’t survive long after the original performer calls it quits. But in “Fully Committed,” Mode has actually written a play rather than strung together a series of vignettes or anecdotes on a common theme. It just happens to be performed by one actor impersonating a couple dozen characters. Fortunately, that actor, Mark Setlock, has comic chops sufficient to devour an entire season of comedians on “Saturday Night Live.”

In the retelling, “Fully Committed” sounds very much like a “SNL” sketch: Clerk Sam takes phone reservations in the dank basement of a four-star Manhattan restaurant that specializes in a cuisine they call “global fusion.” Besides being badgered on the phone by a surly chef and a starstruck maitre d’, Sam must juggle a variety of pampered miscreants who are happy to pay between $ 100 and $ 200 a head for dinner and make reservations three months in advance.Under Nicholas Martin’s direction, Setlock is brilliant. In about two minutes he zips from playing Sam to a put-upon East Side socialite to Sherry Lansing’s secretary at Paramount to Dad in Ohio to Naomi Campbell’s assistant to some Mafioso requesting “The Lady Is a Tramp.”

What takes “Fully Committed” way beyond the sketch category is Mode’s construction of three solid acts, albeit without intermission. Sam begins in resignation — his job is just impossible because everybody on the other end of the line is just impossible. He then sinks into near despair as the chef orders him to clean up a mess in the ladies’ room before Mrs. Zagat has to use the loo. (There are career rejections, too — though he’s not a waiter, Sam, too, is an out-of-work actor.) And finally, there is minor triumph as Sam takes any variety of bribes — from actual cash to possibly meeting Lincoln Center Theater’s Bernard Gersten — in order to give good table.

Best of all, “Fully Committed” — the title is a euphemism for “we’re all booked up” — is a meditation on rejection, a subject on which Sam is an expert. His agent tells him that he doesn’t project “a sense of entitlement” onstage, but as a reservations clerk at a four-star restaurant, Sam now gets to do nothing but reject.

“Fully Committed” should find a long life at the regionals, community theater companies, college drama departments and with actors in search of audition material. The production requires little in the way of a set. James Noone’s scenic design at the Vineyard is appropriately claustrophic and minimal.

In time, reservations via the Internet will make Mode’s play seem as passe as “Bells Are Ringing” appeared 20 years ago. But then, as these cycles go, “Fully Committed” will eventually become as charming as “Bells Are Ringing” looks today.

Fully Committed

(Comedy; Vineyard Theater; 120 seats, $ 35 top)

Production: A Vineyard Theater presentation of a play in one act by Becky Mode. Directed by Nicholas Martin.

Crew: Set, James Noone; lighting, Frances Aronson; sound, Bruce Ellman; production manager, Kai Brothers; stage manager, Bess Marie Glorioso. Opened Sept. 30, 1999. Reviewed Sept. 27. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

With: With: Mark Setlock.

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