Fully Committed by Becky Mode directed by Andrew Volkoff
Vince Gatton in "Fully Committed" at The Berkshire Museum; photo: Kevin Sprague
Vince Gatton as Sam Peliczowski in Barrington Stage Company's production of "Fully Committed"; photo: Kevin Sprague
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Under Attack, I’m being taken; about to crack, defenses breakin’/ won’t somebody please have a heart/Come and rescue me now, ‘cause I’m falling apart..." goes the lyric to the ABBA song featured recently on Broadway in "Mamma Mia!" It completely describes the way Sam Peliczowski feels about mid-way through the 1 hour and seventeen minute one-act play that Barrington Stage Company is presenting in this February outing which is threatening to sell-out at The Berkshire Museum. Sam is a reservationist, working in the basement of a fancy, highly successful restaurant in Manhattan. The place is an international hit, a sensation, and he’s been abandoned by his two co-workers on this fateful day, left to handle the phones, the reservation books, the outraged customers and the staff upstairs who are working the lunch shift.
Sam is, as so many restaurant workers are these days, an out-of-work actor. He’s just had a callback for a new play at Lincoln Center and he’s hoping for a final call-back; actors no longer crave the job the way they do that final callback. He’s from the midwest and there are family problems to deal with, possibly more than he realizes. He aches to go home for Christmas, but his schedule won’t permit it. He is a man with a lot of longings: family, work, sexual gratification, even just a date. But the phones ring and ring and there’s no help. He's being assigned hideous duties that don't fall under his job description; he's being threatened on all sides. He is, literally and figuratively, under attack.
In the course of playing this role, actor Vince Gatton is left to play a quartet alone: one actor and three telephones. On the other end of the lines are about forty different people, all verbalized and physicalized by Gatton as he plays both sides of the conversation for us. He is Sam and he is every caller.
Initially this is a bit startling, even confusing. The first two calls are odd ones and his assumption of the personalities at the other end of the line is a non-reality in a very realistic setting. It’s tough. [This time around Gatton brings the odd reality of his many characters into focus quicker and better. That confusion felt in February is gone in November.] However, as soon as you catch the playwright’s drift here, it makes little difference that this thickly populated play is represented by a single entity in view. Partly this is the result of an actor’s remarkable ability to keep forty-one voices and attitudes completely straight and honest. We never mistake one character for another; he won’t let us. Gatton plays brilliantly in a dialogue that requires different vocal qualities, with many of them repeating. By the end of the show we actually know each character just by their tone of voice, requiring no names uttered by the callers.
But none of this manipulation of voice and body, this high-speed, non-stop mania would matter if the play had no storyline. It does, thank goodness. Goals are established, achieved and out-distanced here. There is satisfaction for the man on stage, the folks in the audience. For anyone who has ever manned a switchboard of any kind there is the added pleasure in watching a master of message-taking making life-changing decisions through his work.
Director Andrew Volkoff has used the set designed by Brian Prather effectively, although there are so many spaces where a paranoid person could hide that remain obviously avoided here. No matter how undone Sam becomes, Volkoff never lets him go wild. He restrains Sam and keeps him real, sympathetic and likeable.
Early in the play Sam describes the cuisine of this restaurant to a curious patron: "The chef calls it Global Fusion," he says aptly describing the menu of callers as well. Covering for his absent boss, Bob, there ultimately comes a moment when that one-syllable name becomes a cry of triumph and release for Sam, a moment that sets the audience on its ear with laughter and jubilation.
The play, funny and brittle, provides a brilliant exercise in character, characterization and cartoon playing for a talented interpreter. Volkoff and Gatton make the most of their talents and abilities in pulling all that credibly together. [They are aided by a fine production team and a stronger sense of theater in the uptown venue than might have been expected. And this time around the play reveals its subtleties as well as its more blatant points.] To quote another ABBA song that seems pertinent to the undertaking on stage in Pittsfield, "The game is on again...a big thing or a small/The winner takes it all/ The winner takes it all."
There are winners here and this is one show not to be missed!
◊ 02-11-2007 // [11/12/2007]◊
FULLY COMMITTED played at The Berkshire Museum through February 18. It is reopening this weekend at Barrington Stage Company's downtown Pittsfield theater on Union Street (just off of North Street) and plays through November 18, Wed & Thu, 7pm; Fri & Sat, 8pm; matinees, Sat, 4pm & Sun, 3pm. All other performances $25 except Sat eves, $35. For more information or to purchase tickets go to their website at www.barringtonstageco.org