Review: FULLY COMMITTED at The Barnstormers Theatre

A tour de force one actor show.

By: Aug. 12, 2023
Review: FULLY COMMITTED at The Barnstormers Theatre
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Nearly 40 characters are portrayed in the Barnstormers Theatre production of Fully Committed by Becky Mode but the cast list has only one name.

In a monumental challenge, a single actor is asked to portray all the characters.

That’s where Doug Shapiro, a long time Barnstormer performer, comes into the picture.

He portrays Sam Callahan, who holds court in the basement of a hyper trendy Manhattan restaurant serving as the communications center attendant on a day when his fellow worker, Bob, is nowhere to be found. He interacts with co-workers via phone and intercom, notably a profane, bullying Chef and the very nervous Frenchman, Maitre-D’ Jean-Claude. (You might call them costars in a single actor’s performance!)  But most of the calls are from a wide array of would-be patrons wanting to nab a reservation on the roster that is “fully committed” (marketing buzz for sold out) for the next three months.

The restaurant is not your neighborhood eatery, rather it costs upwards of $250 per person and offers molecular gastronomy with the likes of “smoked cuttlefish risotto in a cloud of dry ice infused with pipe tobacco” or “nitro-frozen shaved foie gras enshrouded in a liquid chicken-filled orb.”

The callers confronting Sam are memorable. There’s the domineering socialite Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, who’s appalled that she’s relegated to being placed on hold, the discontented Mrs. Sebag who continually reminds him, “I’m a senior citizen, you know,” and Bryce, the flamboyant personal assistant to Gwyneth Paltrow who insists on an extensive list of vegan options for the famed star. Sam’s day includes the nightmares of accommodating lost reservations and trying to accommodate the likes of Alan Greenspan and Diane Sawyer who are becoming disgruntled guests in the upstairs restaurant. He’s even forced by the notorious chef who orders him to clean out a restroom that has been soiled by a patron’s “accident.”

The witty ongoing gags gives plenty of fuel for comic moments, especially for audience members who are well acquainted with the woes of working in customer service. But Mode’s script adds texture and depth with calls that talk about Sam’s recent breakup with his partner, his relationship with his recently widowed father, and his life away from the restaurant as a struggling actor doing the audition circuit.  

Every character is masterfully created by Shapiro who must carry both sides of every conversation, making lightning-fast switches between Sam and the caller, then racing to another phone to get the next call, while placing several more on hold.

Casting the right actor is crucial to the show’s success. The person needs an enormous amount of energy to traverse the expanse of the set, juggle the absurdity of the situation, and create distinctive characters in voice and physical presence.  Directors, Dori Robinson and Jordan Ahnquist, made a brilliant choice in casting Shapiro for the role. He is comfortable with the demands of the part and keeps the audience engaged in every moment with comic genius and perfect command of the stage.

A tender element of the show is showing that people, even in impossible work environments, have lives beyond work that weigh in on their daily routine and they struggle to create sanity in insane circumstances. The show ends on a very positive note with Sam taking charge of his life and opening many possibilities for his future.

Sarah Rozene’s set design is a wonderfully stark workspace beneath the glamorous restaurant made genuinely with elements like brick walls and exposed piping throughout. The stage has an array of desks, chairs and phones scattered everywhere, so that in addition to capturing his calls, Sam must run a marathon between the spaces adding to the frenzied pace of his day.  Sound designer, Kimberly O’Loughlin does an incredible job in timing the phone rings that emanate from file cabinet drawers, electrical panels and trash cans.  

An online search revealed that most productions of this show run for about 90 minutes with no intermission, no doubt to further enhance the actor’s incredible undertaking of the solo performance. Kudos to The Barnstormers Theatre for realizing that in the woods of New Hampshire an intermission is a social event and who doesn’t enjoy the chocolate chip cookies and wine available outside the doors of the Tamworth stage. The intermission deters nothing from Shapiro’s monumental achievement.

Shapiro garnered a quick standing ovation on opening night. It is well deserved for his brilliance of keeping the audience “fully engaged” in this unique production, Fully Committed.


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