Furiously fast paced and lots of fun, the one-man show “Fully Committed” remains a huge hit in New York, even though its original performer, Mark Setlock, has taken his tour de force to the Coronet in L.A. It’s rare that single-cast plays can survive the loss of the original player, especially when the actor helped create the characters in the first place. The fact that the show can be recast says a lot about Becky Mode’s tasty concoction of a play, but West Coast audiences should take advantage of the opportunity to see the initial performer in action.
There’s something especially joyful about Setlock’s portrayal of a panoply of folk desperate to reserve a table at the most chic restaurant in town. It’s obvious that he, as well as the audience, is having a good time.
The piece has a style all its own and while it takes a moment to get used to the performance conceit, willful suspension of disbelief sets in quickly.
Setlock plays Sam, a struggling actor who makes his living by answering the ultrabusy reservations line at an unnamed, oh-so-hip restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (it could, of course, just as easily be in L.A.). Setlock also plays everybody who calls in, switching personae without the use of props or costumes, using only his voice and physicality to communicate the characters. And this is quite a cast of characters, all trying to secure a seat even though the restaurant is “fully committed.”
There’s the society maven who won’t take no for an answer, the woman who won’t stop crying, the midlevel mafioso, the senior citizen upset at not being given her AARP discount, the man who just wants to know how much a table will cost him, and the harried assistant who just wants to be clear about his supermodel boss’s ever-increasing demands.
On the intercom, Sam interacts with, and Setlock voices, the put-upon, eccentric maitre d’ and, of course, the leader of the whole shebang, known only as “The Chef,” whose marinated fluke and jicama-smoked squab are all the rage.
Sam is clearly at the end of his rope, and on this day he’s been abandoned by the reservations manager, whose car has supposedly broken down, and left to fend for himself.
Meanwhile, his very caring and recently widowed father really wants Sam to come home for Christmas, which is a problem since Chef plans on staying open. While he tries to figure out what to do — about his family, his acting career, etc. — he has to deal with one crisis after another, especially when restaurant guide namesake Tim Zagat shows up unexpectedly for lunch.
Mode’s plot isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s just enough to give dramatic shape to all the hectic action, and the social satire is always funny and never mean-spirited. Nicholas Martin’s direction is exceedingly fine — the frenetic pacing makes this 85-minute show a convincing depiction of a full day’s work.
Setlock, a balding, rather non-descript-looking actor, delivers a highly likable, career-making performance, in part because he emphasizes clarity when he could just show off. He’s not phenomenal vocally, nor does he physically disappear into his roles, but he’s clearly a wonderful observer of people’s smaller quirks, and he seems to relish playing each of the characters he embodies.