Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the star of ABC’s “Modern Family,” takes his shot at “Fully Committed,” Becky Mode’s tour-de-force-for-solo-actor about the travails of a booking agent on the reservations desk at a trendy Manhattan restaurant. The 1999 play opened Off Broadway with Mark Setlock, who also collaborated in creating the play’s various colorful if unseen characters. Without bringing anything special to the role of the beleaguered reservations clerk, Ferguson’s performance should remind the industry why this clever trifle is among the ten most-produced plays in the country.
There have been some smart nips and tucks to freshen up the material — although not to the point of acknowledging the existence of the Internet. References to once powerful movers and shakers like Sherry Lansing and Naomi Campbell are out. But Gwyneth Paltrow, who orders a “locally-sourced, no-fat, no-salt, no-dairy, no-sugar, no-chicken, no-meat, no-fish, no-soy, no-rice, no-foam, no-corn tasting menu” for 15 people — is a great substitute. As is Helen Mirren, whom the chef pronounces “hot.”
The cuisine at this chic place has also changed from “global fusion” to “molecular gastronomy.” Appetizers now include “frozen polenta with honey mastic,” and main dishes run to “crispy deer lichen atop a slowly deflating, scent-filled pillow dusted with edible dirt.”
Sam (Ferguson), who shares a basement cranny with the building’s plumbing system, is working the phone bank on his own today. (There’s no clear value to the overdressed set, but those ugly pipes are a nice touch.) Down here, in the bowels of the building, Sam goes mano a mano with all those whining, belligerent, and otherwise insufferable patrons demanding royal treatment. And when the house phones ring, he also has to deal with the narcissistic chef, the prima donna maitre d’, and other self-important superiors quick to take advantage of his good nature.
But Sam is more than the doofus in a sitcom. The playwright has taken care to make him a credible character and give him a plausible life as a would-be actor (that is, if the life of any struggling New York actor could be thought plausible). In between the reservation calls, the phone lines also light up with news that Sam’s best frenemy has a callback for a role at Lincoln Center. To rub it in, his agent tells him he just doesn’t have the cojones for the roles he’s been going up for. And then there’s poor old Dad, recently widowed, who calls from Ohio hoping against hope that Sam will make it to his empty home for Christmas.
The funny voices and comic poses Ferguson adopts to play all these characters are no more amusing than they need to be. But he shines as one character: Sam. Not only does he bring a sense of true if battered humanity to the role, he also gives Sam all the satisfaction he deserves as the worm who finally turns — and reveals that he has teeth.