Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Sam is stuck in the basement of a snazzy New York City restaurant, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling supplies both clerical and culinary which fuel this business. He is an actor hoping to get a callback for a role at Lincoln Center and also a son who speaks frequently with his widowed father. Stern, quickly transitioning from one of 30-something characters to the next, projects voices to become the oppressive chef upstairs who is full of himself, a maitre d' who isn't shy with requests, and many more. At the same time, he's manipulating his body to show the audience exactly how Sam is feeling about each caller. Sam copes with an assistant to Gwyneth Paltrow and, not surprisingly, a very special type of table is desired. The self-important Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn is not pleased that Sam has other calls to field before he gets to hers. In time, there are mentions of Diane Sawyer and Bernie Sanders, too.
It's all the pressured clerk, constantly under fire, can do to swallow some coffee which was probably first fresh a day or two earlier. Sam must man a variety of phones, including his personal one. The concept requires and receives an audacious performance from Stern.
Is this what happens when a performer desperately needs to work and will take a more or less steady day job even if a harried (to understate) existence is in the offing? Probably yes: the work is for pay and level of stress does not fit into the equation. Stern, evening after evening, pushes himself to play Sam with enthusiasm and plenty of gas in his role-playing tank. Looking both friendly and scruffy, he pulls it off without missing a single beat.
Director Bill Fennelly (with whom Stern has previously worked) has no doubt been helpful in assisting the actor to nail and accentuate highlight moments. Sam must be a constant multi-tasking juggler. Who gets priority? When the red light goes on in the corner, we know it's the mean-spirited chef from upstairs making a demand. Sam must jump on it as soon as possible. This well-rehearsed theater piece is precise. The routines are, by now, practiced. Happily, the actor is wonderfully alive in performance. Even if the situation is extreme and seems beyond how bad it could possibly be, one tends to believe what one sees.
Some sequences are wildly funny while others don't quite hit that level. Fortunately, the show gains depth as it heads for the conclusion. Our underdog Sam might actually have better prospects in his immediate future. Maybe.
Fully Committed, through September 1, 2019, at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets, call 860-527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org/.