Playwright Becky Mode's background in TV writing may not surprise theater-goers who see Fully Committed, Madison Repertory Theatre's season opener. While it's fast and funny, the story is a bit thin and lacks a strong sense of forward propulsion. And Sam, an aspiring actress doing time in the trenches of the restaurant biz while waiting for her big break, feels like a character we've seen before.
Yet Fully Committed offers another chance to see Chicago actress Amy J. Carle, who performed earlier this year as Anne Frank's mother in the Rep's The Diary of Anne Frank. Carle brings the same sort of earthy likeability to this role, as utterly different as it is. Though Fully Committed isn't deep, it does provide the stuff for an actor's tour de force. It's a one-person show in which the actor portrays over 40 characters and, simply put, Carle is phenomenal.
Sam Peliczowski is an everywoman-in-the-big-city (though the role was written as male, it's equally appropriate for a woman). Hailing from South Bend, Ind., she's the daughter of a body shop owner. In between going on auditions and nervously waiting for callbacks, Sam works the phones in the drab basement reservations office of a desperately trendy NYC restaurant.
On a particularly bad day, with her two officemates no-shows, Sam battles a relentless barrage of calls from society matrons, personal assistants to the well-to-do, Gourmet magazine, a sadistic jerk of a chef and more. Carle must shift quickly and clearly between Sam and the many callers we know through voice only.
Carle's throaty, warm voice holds up admirably, and many of her choices are a hoot, such as the ever-exasperated maitre d' Jean-Claude, or Bryce, the chipper assistant to notoriously bitchy supermodel Naomi Campbell. Bryce keeps calling back with more of Ms. Campbell's ludicrous demands (vegan tasting menu for 16 on short notice, with seating not too close to the sconces, please).
The dramatic stakes of Fully Committed are fairly low. We're mostly left wondering if Sam will finally land a great part and if she'll be able to finagle Christmas off to visit her dad in Indiana. And the whack-a-mole game of endlessly darting between phones at the three reservation desks - plus a fire-engine-red phone connecting to the chef himself - gets a bit wearying about halfway into the 90-minute show.
But as Sam's fortunes begin to improve and she starts using her own mojo as the route to the most exclusive reservations in town, so, too, does the play improve. And, thankfully, not all of the humor is squeaky clean. Mode's script deploys some appropriate f-bombs and also has us envision a truly disgusting scatological scene that, rather than being gratuitous, demonstrates just how demoralizing Sam's gig at the restaurant has become.
The only big clunker in the humor comes early on, in the form of a caller named Mrs. Watanabe. That bit is plagued by the sort of Asian ethnic stereotyping (think "runch," not "lunch") that seems out of place in something written only a decade ago. One wonders why playwright Mode included this in the first place, and why director Trevin Gay didn't ax it.
Still, those looking for a laugh will find it, and it's a joy to see an actress like Carle firing on all cylinders. She's exceptional, and theater fans should hope that the Rep continues to bring her to Madison.