Fully Committed

Becky Mode's Fully Committed is a wonderfully written, funny and touching story about a young man who manages reservations at an exclusive Manhattan restaurant to support himself while auditioning for acting work. It is a showcase for an actor with the right talents - not only must he provide voices for 40 different characters, but as central character Sam, he must have conversations with each of the other unseen people. Even more difficult, he must clearly communicate to the audience who he is at any given moment while not dropping the fast pace that is carried throughout the 75-minute show. Mark Setlock, who was involved with the birth and evolution of Fully Committed and was the first Sam in the show's Off Broadway debut, had a chance to grow into the role (one for which he had a personal connection) as the show was developed, and he was wonderful in the role. To step into the role is a real challenge, one that takes more than just rehearsing lines. Ethan Sandler took on the challenge and, after watching Setlock perform for several weeks plus working many hours each day with director Daniel Goldstein, performed the role in productions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Sandler is now in Pittsburgh at the Public Theater, bringing Sam, Sam's father and brother, his boss, co-workers and customers to life on the O'Reilly's thrust stage (an additional challenge in itself). The wonder continues.

Sam is a nice guy from the midwest whose job, on the surface, involves taking reservations for a four-star restaurant that books far in advance (becoming "fully committed," as the chef likes to say) . The real challenge of the job is juggling a multitude of egos, from the neurotic chef to the affluent who seek the best table to the celebrity personal assistant who requires eccentric details to be met when the celebrity dines with entourage. The phone rings constantly and Sam deals with, accommodates, turns down, or puts on hold dozens of demanding people. The only time calm comes is when Sam's recently widowed father calls, or when Sam's brother calls, both to gently encourage Sam to make it home to spend Christmas with his father. Battling a neverending series of little fires to extinguish, Sam's story also involves a journey as he salvages his dignity from the attempts of many to treat him like a servant.

Ethan Sandler amazingly manages to present 40 characters clearly and distinctly to the audience through body language and vocal accents. It may take a few minutes, but only a few, to become accustomed to Sandler's voice in order to keep in pace with the machine gun delivery of both sides of many telephone conversations. He speaks quickly but clearly, and rarely is a word difficult to understand. Sandler works the small set, turning his face or entire body to accommodate all three exposed sides of the thrust stage. As well as depicting the Upper East Side battleax, the distracted maitre d', the clueless tourist, the mysterious caller, and the insufferable co-worker, he consistently shows us the decent guy and good son that Sam is. Anyone who has ever had a job that serves the public can identify with the dilemmas Sam faces, and Sandler creates a relationship with the audience as his reactions click with them. When Sam leaves the restaurant at the end of the show, we wish him well, and the ovation offered by the audience is for Sam's conquest of all of the irritants he has faced, as well as for Sandler's superb presentation of the same.

Sandler's performance is entwined with a stunning collection of sound and light cues. The fact that Sandler and the show's crew appear to hit every cue is amazing. At the curtain call, when Sandler points to the booth as a musical performer would point to the orchestra, he is really seeking deserved recognition for his co-stars, as the work he and the crew perform together is intricate and important. A job well done by all.

James Noone's set design is wonderful and functional. Lighting design by Frances Aronson is also admirable as is sound design by Zach Moore. Kudos also go to Michael Friedman (musical arrangements) as well as Fred Noel and Alison Paleos (stage manager and assistant stage manager). Direction by Daniel Goldstein is perfect.

Fully Committed, presented by Pittsburgh Public Theater, Ted Pappas Artistic Director and Stephen Klein Managing Director, runs through July 7 at the O'Reilly Theater. For tickets and further information, call (412) 316-1600 or visit the Public's Box Office at the O'Reilly Theater, or visit www.ppt.org.

The Public's next production will be The Laramie Project, by Moisés Kaufman), beginning July 18.

Photo: Suellen Fitzsimmons

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-- Ann Miner

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