May 14, 2016

"Fully Committed" is Satisfying Enough

Fully Committed, the one-man show about a reservation clerk at a trendy high-end restaurant, didn't get any Tony nominations. But in a season filled with weightier plays about such downer subjects as dementia (The Father) pedophilia (Blackbird) rape (Eclipsed) substance abuse (Long Day's Journey Into Night) and the overall decline of the American middle class (The Humans) there are rewards to be found in the silliness of New Yorkers trying to lie, cheat and bamboozle their way into a fancy restaurant.

That's especially true when that one man onstage is the eager-to-please Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who may have made a name for himself on TV's "Modern Family" but cut his professional teeth on the New York stage and keeps them sharp with return visits almost every year (click here to read an interview with the actor).

This time out, Ferguson is spending his summer break at the Lyceum Theatre through July 24, where he's playing some 40 characters, including the restaurant's imperious chef, its snobby maĆ®tre d' and an assortment of desperate would-be diners. 

Over the course of 80 minutes or so, he whips back and forth as his main character, an underachieving actor named Sam, juggles the callers on multiple phone lines in an oppressive basement office designed by Derek McLane (click here to read more about it).

The play also adds a dollop of gravitas with a few details about Sam's personal life with calls from his ineffectual agent, a frenemy up for the same small part in a Shakespeare production and his recently-widowed Midwestern dad who wants Sam to come home for the approaching Christmas holiday.

The characters are all largely drawn as caricatures but under Jason Moore's light-handed direction, Ferguson gets such a workout as he fast-changes his voice and body language to distinguish one from the other that I almost sweat along with him.

Written by Becky Mode and previously performed by Mark Setlock, Fully Committed had an 18-month run at the Cherry Lane Theatre that ended in 2001. Now, Mode has updated it to include nods to Yelp and the vegan dietary needs of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Some of the jokes are cheap shots. Others aren't as clever as they should be. But Ferguson still manages to make you smile even if you don't go to the kind of restaurants that serve dishes sprinkled with edible dirt.

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