Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Matt Miller: fully committed to Fully Committed

Seven years ago the Sacramento Theatre Company introduced us to “Fully Committed,” with a dazzling performance by one of the company’s favorite actors, Matt Miller, who shined in this one-man show. With Miller reprising the role, STC brings back this lengthy one-act, if anything better than ever.

Written by Becky Mode, who lived the life the play describes, the story unfolds in the basement of a “four-star multiple-award-winning ridiculously trendy Upper East Side Manhattan restaurant.” Though the one in the play is unnamed, these restaurants are for real. Sardi’s, for instance, has been in the theater district for 82 years.

Satirizing pretension and would-be pretension, the play is also a showcase for Miller’s comic sense and versatility. As Sam, he’s an aspiring actor, who moonlights at the restaurant’s reservation desk in its basement. His main task is to field calls from would-be diners. He’s often forced to tell them that the time in question is “fully committed,” the snobbish term for “booked up.” The term is well-chosen, with an implied double-entendre. “Committed” is often used to describe a psychotic forcibly confined to a mental institution.

What astonishes us is that Miller plays not only Sam but all the people who call him on the three phones he races among. And he does so by a simple change of voice and posture, so that he’s talking and listening back and forth during a single phone call. Though initially confused, we quickly accept the convention. What’s astonishing is that he can vividly create a whole room full of characters all by himself.

What we get is a broad range willing to spend big bucks to hobnob with celebrities. They even include real celebrities, like Diane Sawyer. Typical is an Asian lady who explains that her name begins with a “W,” as in “Wisconsin.” But she doesn’t understand terms like “day of the week” or “time to reserve.”

Also calling are his father and Bob, his alternate and relief, who claims to be stranded on a freeway. Thus Sam is trapped, urgently needing food and a bathroom break. He’s also eager to get away so he can attend an important audition. After a while we get to recognize (and visualize) all these personalities just through the voice Miller assumes.

Finally there are his superiors, the chef plus Jean Claude, maitre d’. He uses them to duck impossible callers and they also call him with outrageous demands. Because “it’s part of the job,” he’s forced to pick up a mop and bucket to clean up the mess in a ladies’ room.

Also noteworthy is the way the play is staged and directed, originally by Glenn Casale with additional direction by Gary Alan Wright. It’s performed on the intimate Pollock stage, with its shallow but wide playing area. For “Fully Committed” the reservation desk is front and center, with one phone. But there are two other phones, one at each end of the stage. Thus Miller has to race back and forth to catch or deliver calls. The activity, though, allows the audience to share close-up and distant perspectives.

“Fully Committed” runs through December 20 at the Wells Fargo Complex, 1419 H Street. Performances are Wednesday at 12:30 and 6:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15-$36. No late seating and not suitable for children. Call the box office at (916) 443-6722 or (888) 4-STC-TIX, or visit http://www.sactheatre.org/.

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