His name is Sam. A headset is permanently attached to his skull as he ever-more frantically paces the double-digit square footage of his grotto lair. He’s mostly connected to the telephone with a half-dozen incessantly blinking lines clamoring and yammering for a reservation at the hot hot hot restaurant above. Sometimes he answers a sinister red wall phone over on a column, the direct line to Chef, a tomato foam-loving, sous-vide cooking, squid-ink bathing, uni-smearing sadist. Sometimes he answers his personal mobile phone, where his brother or father is begging him to take enough time off to come home for Christmas, or his agent — for he is of course an actor — explaining why he won’t be going up for that choice role.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the most-amiable Mitchell Pritchett of ABC’s Modern Family (five Emmy nominations for him) and a veteran clown of many a Free Shakespeare in the Central Park productions and the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, plays Sam as well as everyone vying for Sam’s attention, in Becky Mode’s Fully Committed. The title is restaurant-ese for, “No, I can’t get you into this exclusive spot tonight at 8 — or any night at 8 in the next six months, for that matter, no I don’t want your wife/daughter/first-born/husband/Apple shares/bit coin stash. Possibly your bitcoin stash, check back with me in a half hour.”
While these negotiations still go on at Manhattan’s highest-end restaurants (the decade old script has been updated to include a reference to 11 Madison Park), it probably will be more familiar to anyone within shouting distance of house seats for Hamilton/The Book of Mormon/The Producers. This is the world of the fractional 1 percent and fractional-1-per-cent-wannabes to whom a T-shirt I have imprinted with, “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?” applies.
As it happens, I was once married to a restaurant like Sam’s, and I can say with some authority that the hilariously aptly named Ms. Mode knows whereof she speaks. The personal assistant to Gwynnie with the long set of requirements for her lunch including a low-wattage bulb for the wall sconce. The spouse of the Wall Street M-of-the-U who cannot believe how incompetent the staff is. The very dear old person who cannot understand why her check didn’t include the AARP discount. Etc. Etc.
Tyler Ferguson navigates these human mountains and valleys, major torrents and tricky rivulets, with precision and even empathy; it’s a virtuosic performance and the audience, you should pardon the expression, eats it up. Derek McLane’s just-squalid-enough set, littered with crap, made claustrophobic with file cabinets and too much disposed-of furniture and the like, is spot on. At barely 70 minutes, Fully Committed is not so much a meal as an amuse-bouche, that clever little thingy the chef sends out before your meal to tickle your palate and show off his inventiveness, and is made of stuff you never heard of. A gulp and it’s gone.
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