Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not quite fully committed

I'm a fan of Gabriel Kuttner (at left), so I myself am unsure why it took me so long to catch up with his take on Fully Committed, Becky Mode's one-man, forty-character ode to the underbelly of the restaurant biz. Kuttner plays one Sam Peliczowski, an unemployed actor locked in the dungeon of a four-star eatery (loosely based on Tribeca's Bouley, which was king of the hill in the 90's, when Mode worked there). Sam spends his days desperately waiting for callbacks as he tries to "field" a bank of phones, and deal with the hordes of climbers, crawlers, and back-stabbers desperate to get a table (preferably #31) in the aerie above him. Of course coming face-to-face with the brutal reality behind the polite mask of society is always dispiriting, and this particular day is doubly depressing for Sam, as his co-worker has called in sick, the Zagats have shown up un-announced, the plumbing has backed up, and Naomi Campbell's personal assistant is on the line.

What's striking about this set-up is how little things have changed since the 90's. The Globe's Christopher Muther (who despite being very hip still works at the Globe, for some reason) sniffed that the play has dated - but what's almost eerie about it is how, a little more than a decade after its premiere, so much of its celebrity culture counts as current: Naomi Campbell, for example, was a notorious bitch-on-wheels then, and she's a notorious bitch-on-wheels now. "Vegan tasting menus" were ridiculous then, and they're ridiculous now. Plus ça change, etc.

Other things about the script have remained constant, too. It's still an opportunity for a tour de force from a solo performer (as he or she must essay not only Sam but everyone he talks to, from Ms. Campbell's caffeinated admin to the coked-up maître d'). At this, Kuttner succeeds brilliantly, cleanly leaping at will, and in complicated sequence, to nearly forty different accents and attitudes, from Brooklyn to London to Tokyo and beyond; if you tried to follow this performance on Google Earth, you'd end up covering the globe. Indeed, this may be the best vocal acting performance I've ever seen in Boston - and it delighted the crowd I saw the show with.

What's missing (at least on the night I attended) was Sam's own arc. Or rather the arc was there, but wasn't the rollercoaster-like plunge, then abrupt rise, that I recall from other productions. For after enduring a ton of metaphoric shit, Sam has to endure some of the real thing as well, before he gets in touch with his own "sense of entitlement" and begins to work those phones to his own advantage. (As you can probably tell, Fully Committed is partly popular because it offers actors a chance to enact a much-deserved Cinderella story of their own.)

What's funny is that Sam's arc should be the easy part; it's those zillions of unseen characters on the phone that are the hard part. Of course the steady calibration of his descent toward rock bottom, which comes in tiny blips between the screams of his many callers, is a challenge in and of itself. What's interesting is that Kuttner (or perhaps director Steven Barkhimer) should have lost track, a bit, of his leading man, because he has always been a fascinating performer despite being - well, a perfectly average guy, without a particular "look" that easily types him, or distinguishes him, either. In a way, he's an example of pure "talent" - his smarts, along with his technique and a little inspiration, are what have made him one of the city's top character actors. Maybe he just got distracted this time by all the many, many characters he had to enact.