Fort Worth — Big casts can wow us, but sometimes it’s a treat to watch just one sharp actor pull out all the stops—and Russell Saylor in Fully Committed is worth watching. He’s the unstoppable bundle of energy currently playing every single character in Amphibian Stage Productions’ Fort Worth premiere of Becky Mode’s off-Broadway hit.
How many characters? I lost count somewhere north of 30…I think.
The premise of this whirlwind 75-minute comedy, smartly directed by Amphibian founding member Evan Mueller, is this: struggling actor Sam (Saylor) has a day job working the reservation lines for an insanely overbooked four-star Manhattan restaurant. (“Fully committed” is foodie slang for “every table reserved.”) He arrives one morning to discover his co-workers have no-showed. Sam is alone with the phones.
His day is a tsunami of calls, pouring in from whining socialites and exacting food critics, entitled celebrities and clueless out-of-towners, oil sheiks and supermodels—and only Sam stands between them and their heart’s desire: a table. A table at the place where nobody can get a table. A table that says they are somebody.
Fully Committed created a buzz as one of The ‘Phibs staged readings a while back, and the full-out version is as funny as we’d heard. And as Sam, the only visible character onstage, the New York-based Saylor gets into a physical and vocal rhythm that’s hyperkinetic and hilarious.
The authentically grungy basement call center (a too-true set design by Bradley Gray, with props from Linsey Retcofsky) becomes a one-room roller derby, with Sam (in his office chair) the only competitor in sight. Desperate to keep up with the phones and the intercom—buzzing with calls from the restaurant staff upstairs—and with the super-private line to his scary boss The Chef, Saylor rolls, pivots and lunges—all the while slipping seamlessly out of Sam’s voice and into many others: from maitre d’ Jean-Claude’s throaty Franglais to The Chef’s menacing Clint Eastwood hoarseness; from co-worker Bob’s Sesame Street voice to the Valley Girl tones of Naomi Campbell’s chirpy assistant, Brice, who needs a table for 15…with a vegan tasting menu…and better lighting.
There’s a socialite using hysterics to bully her way to a table; a senior citizen demanding the AARP discount, an actor friend being “honest” about how much better his career is going—and that’s just for starters. Saylor’s face is a slide show of fleeting expressions—panic, confusion, outrage—and the less they match what he’s saying on the phone, the funnier they get. It’s quite a show, not the least because Saylor never once leaves us feeling confused about which character he’s “doing” from one split-second to the next.
Fully Committed is a comic slice of workday hell, and a send-up of silly types who are well worth mocking. But if the play was just that—zingers about the Snoots up in Snootsville—it wouldn’t be enough. Wisely, playwright Mode has more on the menu: she’s given us Sam—and him, we can care about.
Saylor finds space in the non-stop chatter to give us a glimpse of the real Sam, a sweet Midwest kid under the New York-actor glibness. And we learn about Sam’s life beyond the basement: his recently widowed Dad—who’s on the phone too—wants to know if he can get off work and come home for Christmas. And Sam’s waiting to hear about a callback for a role he desperately wants at Lincoln Center. But at work, he's definitely at the bottom of the food chain, and we’ve all been there: Sam puts out maximum effort for minimum pay, and takes what The Chef dishes out, even a job so revolting the busboys are in hiding.
Will this worm ever turn? We’re fully committed to not telling too much—but maybe, just maybe, Sam’s learned a thing or two from those pushy people on the phones. And whatever happens, there are plenty of laughs dished up along the way.