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WEEKEND REVIEWS / Theater Review

'Committed' Brings Sly Laughs to the Table

September 18, 2000|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Revenge, like fine dining, is sweet. Take stainedapron.com, the Internet site on which various restaurant employees wreak vengeance on those who have wronged them on the job: bullies, under-tippers, overeager egos, the rich, the famous and the insufferably entitled.

But revenge is more fun if it's live. The proof's in the pudding, and the pudding--tasty and deftly served--is called "Fully Committed," a slice of the life of Sam, a harried reservationist at a hot, haute, desperately fabulous Manhattan eatery.

The actor in playwright Becky Mode's solo piece also plays everyone Sam talks to by phone, primarily the would-be diners--doctors from Milwaukee, mid-level Mafiosi, the odd personal assistant to the odd supermodel--who will say anything, anything to get a good table on a weekend night. Away from the kitchen.

It's a delicious premise, rich with gargoyles up and down the food chain. The Los Angeles edition of "Fully Committed"--featuring Mark Setlock in roles he originated (and helped fashion) in New York--opened over the weekend at the Coronet Theatre. It's 80 minutes of bitchy fun.

And it's one of those very-New York shows that travels well. There's something innately right, in fact, about seeing "Fully Committed" in L.A., a town run by people who may, at any given moment, never eat lunch in it again.

Beneath every pyramid lies the untold story of the slave laborer who helped build it, and in the case of Mode's play, the pyramid is an Upper East Side restaurant specializing in "global fusion" cuisine. We're taken to the very bowels of the monument in question, into the basement where our hero, a sometime actor from Indiana, toils at a phone bank between auditions.

"Fully Committed"--the title being a euphemism for "all booked up"--is simple. It's one phone call after another, and Setlock keeps his voices, timing and inflections dazzlingly specific. He introduces us to the eerily malicious chef upstairs, panicked that the Zagat reservation has been lost. We meet Jean-Claude, the cocaine-fueled maitre d'hotel, dodging a mistress.

*

Among the choicest creations outside the confines of the restaurant: Bryce, the fantastically chipper assistant to supermodel Naomi Campbell, who keeps calling back to refine the reservation (all-vegan menu, more flattering lighting). An 80ish Manhattan matron calls to complain about a recent meal. Everything was cold. "The lamb," she says, "was bitter cold."

Sam has a life outside this harried sprint, and "Fully Committed" provides glimpses of it. He's waiting to hear about a callback for the next Lincoln Center Theater production, though the adversarial little ferret who works at his agency isn't encouraging. ("You do tend to convey . . . a certain lack of entitlement," he tells Sam.) Amid this high-strung froth, Mode tosses in a narrative anchor: Sam wants to get back home for Christmas with his father. How he works this out, tying up various mini-narratives, puts a nice, neat cap on the action.

Maybe too neat. Mode's writing is solid, though "Fully Committed" would be pretty modest--showcasey, even--without a skillful actor zigzagging through the calls. Luckily we have one here, and the production, directed by Nicholas Martin--whose credits include the Diana Vreeland solo "Full Gallop"--likewise takes this material at full gallop. Lighting designer Frances Aronson has no trouble keeping up, and she turns scenic designer James Noone's crowded restaurant basement into a series of separate playing areas.

I had a nice time. Now, about that Scottish wood squab entree. . . .

* "Fully Committed," Coronet Theatre, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd. (one block north of Beverly Boulevard). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 and 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 19. $25-$45. (310) 657-7377 or http://www.fullycommitted.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

"Fully Committed"

Sam, Jean-Claude, Chef, various confirmed and would-be diners: Mark Setlock

Written by Becky Mode. Directed by Nicholas Martin. Scenic design by James Noone. Lighting by Frances Aronson. Sound by Bruce Ellman. Production stage manager David S. Franklin.

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