Review by Sharlene Hartman
ELLENVILLE, NY (June 28, 2012) – I was simply awestruck. By the time 10 minutes had passed I was thinking “OMG, WOW!!! How on earth is he able to do this???” In watching “Fully Committed,” playing now through July 15, 2012, I have, once again been blown away by a Shadowland Production, particularly, the brilliant, decathlon performance of Wayne Pyle.
To begin with it’s a great story, by playwright Becky Mode (based on characters created by her and Mark Setlock, who originated the role), the kind of story that inspires us. It’s a tale of the little guy; the low man on the totem pole, who is triumphant over all forces, both foreign (accents) and domestic. It’s how he ultimately overcomes all the dung (and I’m being literal here) he has been forced or ordered to deal with.
Sam, played by the incredible Wayne Pyle, is a hard working, struggling actor. Recently he’s had the chance to audition for prestigious work, “overnight” success kind of work. But he’s balancing all of this, with his VERY demanding “day job”. Sam mans the reservation desk phone at the “swanky” #1 restaurant in Manhattan; the chef is an international culinary sensation and reservations are in uber demand. And on this particular day, his job puts him closer to hell than the basement he is already working in. His co-worker Bob hasn’t come in and poor Sam is left to deal with all the craziness by himself. The Chef is constantly calling, Jean Claude, the business manager, is buzzing in from the dining room and there are a multitude of problems. One being that Tim Zagat has shown up (yes that ZAGAT) and his reservation can’t be found. In addition the main phone, with its multiple lines, is ringing off the hook; “hold please, hold please, hold please.” And Sam’s recently widowed dad, from Indiana, keeps calling to see if Sam has been able to get Christmas off. You’re laughing your socks off and then you get a zing of reality.
Sam’s job includes dealing with some VERY difficult people. There are multiple calls from the cigarette saturated voice of Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, an overly demanding socialite who only wants to speak with Jean-Claude. There’s Bryce, the effete sounding assistant from Naomi Campbell’s office, who wants a table for 15 this Saturday evening, an all vegan menu and “no female wait-staff at the table.” A knuckle cracking Mafia guy, wants the waiters to serenade his parents with “The Lady Is a Tramp,” at their anniversary dinner. An elderly woman complains that she didn’t get her AARP discount. And these are just a few of the personalities that Sam encounters in his “late 1990s” world.
Getting a last minute reservation is a monumental achievement; the restaurant is booked 3 months in advance, so the scheming begins. There are numerous manipulating socialites, corporate power brokers, name dropping status seekers, threats, bribes, you name it. And most are given the stock answer “sorry, but we are ‘fully committed’,” this evening, this weekend, this month, etc., etc., etc.
In-between all the calls and demands of the restaurant we see Sam’s life unfold. His so-called friend Jerry constantly calls to brag about his acting gigs. An older gentleman, from Sam’s home town, phones to see “How ya doin’ since your mom died.” His brother calls and the pressure is building to be home for Christmas. Sam’s also not feeling the love from his agent Diana; and Curtis, the snippy assistant, keeps telling him that he needs to work on conveying “a certain look of entitlement,” when he auditions.
But the jigsaw puzzle begins to come together; and a couple of the day’s major problems become assets. And after his good nature is taken advantage of, from all sides, Sam reaches his limit. He turns a corner, becomes empowered and uses the system to his advantage. He seizes the opportunities that have appeared in front of him. And oh, did I forget to mention that ALL the characters in this wildly amusing romp are played by Wayne Pyle? That means not only Sam, but the other 39 as well.
“Fully Committed”is not your typical, multi-character, one-person show; such as those that have been done by Whoopi Goldberg, John Leguizamo or Billy Crystal, who create a group of major characters within their show. With a slight set-up they often go from one monologue to another in a very linear fashion. But, in “Fully Committed” the characters are sporadic, frenetic and random. Most often they are preceded by a sound cue; the ringing or buzzing of one of the three phones. There is a total of 320 sound cues, it was absolutely amazing. And if there is a second star it surely is Jeff Knapp, the sound designer.
It took me a few minutes to adapt to how this was being done; as at the top of the show Sam answers the phone in one voice and with a very slight physical adjustment responds with a different one. But once I got into the rhythm and mastery of the performance I was with him every step of the way. I was amazed by what I was watching. At one point I glanced at my watch and it was 9pm, almost an hour had zipped by in a snap.
As an actor myself, I was in absolute awe as to how one would approach the memorization of this. Instead of linear it was like a seismograph. When the phone, on the stage right wall, rang it was always the chef and when the phone, on the stage left wall, rang it was always the dining room. But what about all those random calls on the main phone at the desk? I knew there had been two weeks of rehearsal, and I’d overheard that Wayne arrived almost fully memorized. But unless Wayne had a photographic memory there had to be some luxury of time. I saw it opening night and he never faltered or skipped a beat. After the show, I was lucky enough to be able to speak with gifted Shadowland director Brendan Burke. He provided a little insight. It turns out that Brendan had approached Wayne last January and would only produce the show if Wayne played Sam, because in real life Wayne is a calm, mellow fellow. The pace of the show is so rapid, different characters shot out like bolts of lightning; the last thing Burke wanted was a hyper actor. So in March the deal was sealed and thankfully Mr. Pyle and Mr. Burke had time to discuss the approach to the characters and their voices. It’s a mammoth undertaking for even the most versatile actor and director … but it was superb.
Shadowland calls “Fully Committed” an “Athletic tour de force,” which is spot on. Sam is constantly dashing from side to side while morphing into 39 characters. I don’t know many actors that could do this or would have the stamina. It’s a constant relay, giving costume designer Holly Lewis Budd the challenge of keeping Wayne comfortable.
If you’ve ever had a job that you REALLY needed; requiring you to jump through hoops, bite your tongue, swallow your pride and take orders from practically everyone, then you must see “Fully Committed.” It’s a Schizophrenic delight! You’ll not only laugh yourself silly, it will provide you with a wonderful feeling of satisfaction!
“Fully Committed” runs through July 15, 2012: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at Shadowland Theatre, 157 Canal Street, Ellenville, NY, 845-647-5511
Pay What You Can Program: This season Shadowland continues its innovative “Pay What You Can” program. In an effort to make sure that Shadowland’s programming is accessible to all audiences, for all Thursday and Friday performances (except Opening Nights), the theatre will make seats available for those who cannot afford regular admission. Anyone wishing to purchase a “Pay What You Can” ticket may simply purchase a ticket at the box office, during the regular hours, and set their own price. “Pay What You Can” and enjoy a great evening at the theatre.