Thursday, December 27, 2012

Still hanging on the telephone

Photo: Robert Lorino
The New Rep has a tradition of turning over their downstairs space to Boston's best performers, in pieces that sometimes amount to little more than vehicles - like the recent Chesapeake - but which still offer our local actors (or more often actresses) to show the community just what they can do.

Fully Committed (through Dec. 30) is perhaps the first time, however, that the New Rep has showcased a performance that originated elsewhere.  As I recall, it's more than two years since the versatile Gabriel Kuttner (at left) first performed the role of "Sam," the hapless actor manning the phones in Becky Mode's acid sketch of the reservation list at a chic Manhattan eatery (the now-forgotten Bouley, where Mode worked in the 90's). Kuttner won an IRNE for that performance - which included not only his take on Sam, but more than 30 different callers, with more than 30 different accents; so his turn at the New Rep counts as something of a victory lap.

And it's still an amazing round-the-world tour, with the voices popping in from Wisconsin all the way to Tokyo.  And Kuttner not only renders all these accents with amazing accuracy; he captures the speakers' tone and presence as well - perhaps even their psyches.  It's an astonishingly nimble tour-de-force, in which Kuttner dazzles not only with his acting chops and timing, but astonishes with a voice that may be the most flexible and resonant in Boston.

I have only one complaint with Kuttner (and it's the one I had regarding his previous version, too) -  Sam's own arc remains a bit flat, even though before he learns to develop his "sense of entitlement," and work those phones for all they're worth, he sinks to the bottom of the restaurant's own pecking order, and ends up cleaning the toilet. Kuttner has wisely made Sam a low-key, even-keeled kind of guy (to throw into higher relief the bullies trying to claw their way into Bouley), but this doesn't mean he isn't on a personal roller coaster through much of Fully Committed, and as yet, under the direction of Bridget Kathleen O'Leary, Kuttner isn't giving us either Sam's highest highs or lowest lows.

But this is easy to forget whenever Kuttner launches into another vocal cameo, whether it be the cockney accent of a chef who sounds like Michael Caine at the bottom of a sewer, or the anxious treble of Naomi Campbell's personal assistant, or the gentle twang of a brother who unconsciously echoes his father (whom we've also heard).  In the end, I think what makes Fully Committed so dramatically full is Kuttner's complete commitment to that kind of telling detail.

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