Sam is having a tough day.
As the man on the phones in Fully Committed, the single-actor comedy that opened at Amphibian Stage Productions on Thursday, Sam Peliczowski (Russell Saylor) is up to his derriere in alligators. The extremely exclusive New York restaurant where he takes the reservations has been booked to the rafters, is dangerously short on staff and has no answers for the irate parties holding on lines one, two, three and four.
This would not seem to be enough material from which to build a play. But this script by Becky Mode does exactly that. And thanks to a relentless performance by Saylor, her words are served up like a fine meal in this production directed by Evan Mueller.
The gimmick in this show is that its lone actor must play Sam and all of the would-be diners and restaurant staff with whom Sam must converse. His cluttered, basement office is equipped with a standard phone used (mostly in vain) by those wanting reservations, an intercom to the maître d’s station and an in-house line used by the establishment’s sharp-tongued chef. So Saylor is constantly shifting from doing his lead character to taking on the personae of callers (male and female) or co-workers (the staff is a regular United Nations of accents). It sounds odd but, on stage, Saylor and Mueller make it work.
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Mode’s script is nicely structured, because it avoids the pitfall of becoming too repetitive. Early on, it seems that the show might have just one joke: desperate and volatile people begging Sam for a table, which sets up opportunities for funny exchanges or, at the very least, funny voices.
While these sorts of interactions are the most common in the show (Sam deals with underlings of mob bosses, movie stars and Arab sheiks, and takes a lot of direct flak from a wide range of self-important types whose lives seem to depend on securing a dinner reservation), Mode also creates just a little dramatic tension with two plot lines that weave in and out of the vitriol of the reservations calls and the insanity of the staff interactions. We learn that aspiring actor Sam is waiting for a callback for a major part, and that his father is hoping he will make it home for Christmas.
That is not much, but it is enough to prevent the 75-minute show from being just a series of goofy phone exchanges. It is not possible to care if any of the loony tunes on Sam’s lines get a reservation or not, but we are made to care about Sam and how things work out for him.
The real show here is Saylor’s performance. It is staggering to think about how many characters he portrays. He leaves the stage only once, when he is forced by the maniacal chef to do an odious job. Otherwise, Saylor is speaking and moving the entire time.
Just memorizing that many lines is a feat in itself. But keeping all those characters straight and under control is an amazing accomplishment that is both exhausting and exhilarating to watch. If you want to see a tour de force acting performance, you don’t need to have any reservations about this production.