If you haven’t heard that one before, Sam Peliczowski probably has.  Sam is, you see, a struggling New York-based actor with the worst restaurant job in the Big Apple. Stuck deep down in a tiny basement cell, Sam is the reservations clerk for one of the city’s most shi-shi établissements.  No chance for Sam to be seen by directors, producers, casting people.  No chance for him to meet women (or men, if he happens to swing that way). No chance to get even the measliest of tips.

Sam is the protagonist of Becky Mode’s 37-character comedy Fully Committed, a one-actor one-acter in which a single male or female thespian gets to play not only Sam, but all 36 others, including the restaurant’s narcissistic chef, its snooty French maitre d’, Sam’s elderly dad and his agent’s assistant, assorted employees, and a couple dozen callers in search of that illusive reservation.  Can you spell “comic tour-de -force”?

Fully Committed’s original star (and co-creator of the play’s array of characters) Mark Setlock first brought the comedy to L.A. in 2000 for a successful run at the Coronet Theatre. Now, a decade later, Fully Committed is back, at San Pedro’s Little Fish Theatre, with Sam Lloyd (“Ted Buckland” for nine seasons on TV’s Scrubs) in all 37 roles, and yes indeedy, his performances make for a veritable comic tour-de -force.

It takes a minute or two to get used to seeing and hearing Lloyd move back and forth between Sam and one caller after another, but we soon recognize voices and even begin imagining faces, so real and varied are the voices and body language Lloyd creates for each character.

Among my own personal favorite callers are 

•Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, the imperious socialite described by maitre d’ Jean-Claude as having “the face of a catfish.” Sam: “Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn on line three.”  Jean-Claude:  “Sam, she’s so ugly.”

•Mrs. Watanabe, the Japanese tourist with very little English, who begins each call with a painfully slow, high-pitched “My name is Watanabe. ‘W’ as in Wisconsin, ‘A’ as …”

•Bryce, the Naomi Campbell’s very gay assistant.  “She definitely needs a vegan tasting menu.  That’s a no-fat, no-salt, no-dairy, no-sugar, no-chicken, no-meat, no-fish, no-soy tasting menu for fifteen, okay?”

•Mrs. Sebag, the very definition of a battle-ax, absolutely outraged to learn that the restaurant has no record of the reservation she made three months ago. “This is an emergency!”

As Sam does his best to field his callers’ requests for tables that simply don’t exist (“I’m sorry, but we’re fully committed through January”), he struggles to get through to his agent regarding a Lincoln Center acting gig he desperately wants.   Sam’s recently widowed father, a sweet soul of a man, has only one request for his son—a Christmas visit that is much more easily said than done.

Audience laughter builds as crisis piles up upon crisis. Are they really going to make him sing “The Lady Is A Tramp” for a Mafioso customer?  Isn’t there anyone but Sam to go clean up the lady’s powder room where someone has had a diarrhea attack just as Nina Zagat of Zagat Restaurant Surveys is about to use it? How is Sam going to manage to wrest the Lincoln Center gig from his former acting schoolmate who wants it every bit as much as Sam does? We may not have worked as a reservation clerk or been a struggling actor, but we can imagine ourselves in Sam’s shoes—and we’ve all met people like the ones who are making his job a basement hell.

Director Melanie Jones shares credit for Lloyd’s tour-de-force performance.  Neither could do it quite so well without the other. 

On a “could-be-improved” note, it’s to be hoped that the lack of a take-home program will be a one-production occurrence. Performers and audience members deserve to have in their hands basic production info, cast and creative team bios, etc. In the case of Fully Committed, a “Cast Of Characters” list would be useful (and amusing as well).  Theatergoers might want to know who did the show’s lighting, and in the case of a show with as many sound cues as this one has, who was in charge of this tougher than usual task.

Running on Wednesdays and Thursdays, Fully Committed provides the perfect pick-me-up for anyone with the mid-week blues. Not only might you laugh till it hurts, you’ll likely leave the theater grateful that, whatever your job might be, at least you’re not a struggling actor slash reservations clerk like Sam.

Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St. San Pedro.

–Steven Stanley
April 28, 2010

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