BWW Review: Tom Story Is Fully Committed As 40 Characters In FULLY COMMITTED At MetroStage, A Tour De Force
One-person shows - aka one-man or one-woman plays - have graced the stages for as long as there has been theatre. In the last century alone, HAl Holbrook has brought the words and characters of Mark Twain back to life to great acclaim. In her heyday, award-winning actress Julie Harris gave her single actress turns as Emily Dickinson and Danish author Isak Dinesen. Still other plays with a lone actor allow the performer to take on other roles, showcasing multiple characters through the quicksilver acting of the solo performer.
Becky Mode's FULLY COMMITTED falls under the latter category. Written and first presented two decades ago, FULLY COMMITTED was revised and revived in New York recently with Broadway veteran and one of the costars of TV comedy hit "Modern Family," Jesse Tyler Ferguson. This brought enough interest in the show to warrant additional productions and Carolyn Griffin, artistic leader of MetroStage thought it was the perfect vehicle for two of the DC areas hardest working artists: Tom Story and Alan Paul.
Story is a seasoned actor with credits spanning many of the DC-Metro areas finest theatres: Shakespeare Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, Ford's Theatre, and Roundhouse, to name but a few. Paul, an up-and-coming director and associate artistic director at Shakespeare Theatre Company, he has lead therecent ROMEO AND JULIET, as well as their recent musical productions, MAN OF LA MANCHA, KISS ME, KATE, and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.
Griffin's dream of getting Story and Paul for a show "across the river" in Old Town Alexandria has come true, and the production is a dream come true. With subtlety and fearless creativity, Story is able to inhabit the intimate MetroStage with an entire cast of characters, the conceit of Mode's look at one man's horrific day at work.
Sam is an out-of-work actor who has a day job, certainly not an unusual situation. As one of the reservation specialists in one of New York City's trendiest restaurants, it is Sam's job, apparently, to not only make patrons happy but everyone else as well - from the demanding chef, down to the bus boys. Throughout his eventful shift in the basement call center, Sam talks to customers, pampers the chef, covers for missing co-workers, deals with family drama, and attempts to find out if he has gotten a callback for a prestigious theatre job.
If this were a standard play with a cast of ten, it would probably work okay and allow for some heated and hilarious dialogue. Mode takes that idea and puts all of the exchanges - tense and humorous, awkward and profound - and has Sam be all the other characters as well as himself. It begins right away, when Story, as Sam, enters his basement office and starts taking calls. At first, I thought it was the way Sam, the actor, coped with the boredom of just answering phones - he would imagine what Bryce from Gwyneth Paltrow's office looked like, as well as callers like Mrs. Carolyn Rosenstein-Fishburn, and many others. As the play progressed, it just became the method to the madness of one man portraying nearly 40 other characters during the course of the show.
There is no doubt Story was The Man for the job - or jobs. With a change of posture, a slight tilt of his head, he slips into the other characters with ease. His malleable and expressive voice, of course, works to his advantage, whether he is purring as Bryce or pouring on a Southern accent as another. My guess is Paul's sharp eye for detail gave Story the edge to remain consistent when switching from Sam to the other characters.
I was certainly impressed by Story's performance, the play itself was more dramedy than comedy. I was struck by Sam's plight as a struggling actor and his relationship with his father back in the Midwest, whom we get to know through break-in phone calls. The degradation Sam works through at the hands of the customers and even his boss, the Chef - a pretentious, brutish, coke-sniffing egomaniac - which is also one of Story's most vivid characters. Watching Story switch from the bully chef to the wounded Sam is worth the price of admission.
Giving Story a proper setting for his one-man odyssey, set designer Carl Gudenius, assistant set designer Jingwei Dai, the props and set decoration of Rhe'a Roland outdid themselves by creating a semi-cluttered, realistic replica of a working basement work center. From the cabinets to the cluttered work surfaces and wired phones, the office space gave Story's Sam everything he needed to do his job.
Running from December through early January, FULLY COMMITTED is an inadvertent Christmas play. While not a typical holiday-themed show, Sam's day of ordeals takes place a few weeks before Christmas, and his goal is to try to make it work to get to see his family back in Indiana for the big holiday. You will have to go see FULLY COMMITTED to find out if Sam gets his wish.
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FULLY COMMITTED by Becky Mode
Directed by Alan Paul
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
FULLY COMMITTED runs through January 8,2017 at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal St, North Old Town Alexandria. 703.548.9044. www.metrostage.org
Photo Credit: Chris Banks