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Review: ‘Fully Committed’ at MetroStage

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Tom Story is a knockout in his one-actor, effortlessly frenetic, tour de force performance as 40 different characters who comprise the charming “controlled” frenzy of MetroStage’s Fully Committed. Story’s performance – as a put-upon phone reservation clerk at the bottom of the food chain – clearly requires intense stamina of his mind and body. Yet he makes it seem all so effortless and natural. He’s amazing!

Tom Story in Fully Committed. Photo by Chris Banks.

If you crave something different from a traditional Christmas show, well, then Fully Committed generates plenty of Holiday cheer especially as Story’s character Sam discovers that his wrapped Christmas present has been with him all along; just hidden out of view. Tom Story is a joy to behold and the production is a totally bright tinselly affair.

Written by Becky Moore, Fully Committed was first produced in New York City in 1999. Moore’s set-up is this: Sam is the reservation clerk at a restaurant known for its “molecular gastronomy” and “edible dirt.” Yup, t’is true.

Working in a windowless, basement workspace, Sam answers the ever-ringing phones. Callers are often those of privilege and power, or think they are. Some bold-type names used in Fully Committed for their share of abuse include the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Diane Sawyer, and Alan Greenspan. There are others who are just persistent callers like Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn or a Mrs. Seabag, as well as those who relish in humiliating Sam. These include the Chef, the Hostess, the Restaurant owner, and even one he thought was a BFF. As the lower than low, Sam also has to take on the physically dirtiest of jobs. And one of the most is most definitely the dirtiest.

Why does Sam take all of this? Well, he has rent to pay and he is, wait for it….an unemployed actor needing the money. He also would like to have Christmas Day off so he can visit with his recently widowed Dad.

As directed by Shakespeare Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director and Helen Hayes Award recipient Alan PaulFully Committed is splendidly comic. But the show has some deeper notes beyond the laughter. Moore’s now updated script and Paul’s direction bring needed honor to those usually unseen in our increasingly technology-driven world: those invisible workers who make life easier for everyone else, answering phones, delivering packages, and who work, likely, for low wages.

Tom Story in ‘Fully Committed. Photo by Chris Banks.

In 90 minutes of acting glee, Story presents not only the down-trodden Sam, but brings to full life each and every one who Sam answers to. Story becomes like a live split screen. He answers the phone and then – lickety–split – shows the verbal and physical gestures, tics, and personalities of the nearly 40 callers in a back-and-forth conversation with only himself. These callers can be snotty, patronizing, old, young, straight, gay, Baby Boomer, or Millennial, and God knows what else. Story has invented something distinct for each. What’s even more fascinating, as many callers keep calling over and over, he nails each one no matter how long ago they “appeared” on stage as a caller.

But then, something like a Christmas miracle happens. About two-thirds through the production there is a phone call that sets Sam to begin thinking about himself in a different way. It is like one of those self-help voices that helps Sam to become a warrior for himself. Story changes his voice range and inflection and his way of standing and sitting to appear no longer deflated and defeated. The rest is for you to see and take in for yourself.

Tom Story in Fully Committed. Photo by Chris Banks.

MetroStage’s production values are a bulls-eye that use an intimate venue impeccably. The setting is a well-accomplished close quarters. A wonder of details of life in a demeaning job. Set design is by Carl Gudenius, lighting design by Alexander Keen, with Gordon Nimmo-Smith providing the sound design. I can’t provide enough kudos to the props/set decoration work of Rhe’a Roland. It’s like somehow they each had at one time or another worked in such an environment in their real life.

Let me add applause to the work of the Stage Manager David Elias, who must have an enormous number of cues to master for the myriad number of sound, lights, and whatever other moving parts the audience can see and hear that match with Story’s performance.

Oh the title, Fully Committed, is just a nicer way to say, “Sorry, we are full. No room at the inn for you.”

Tom Story’s performance, as Sam, shows off his wondrous acting talent. For me the production is way more than just great entertainment. The production is a good depiction of the revenge of an angry put-upon worker. Tom Story’s Sam gives voice and a passive-aggressive response for the invisible workers out there we count upon – but may not engage or pay attention to – as we try to get what we want when we want it, which is usually “right now.” Sadly, they don’t have the fun I did watching this great actor at work, or the joy that Tom Story must get performing this outrageous role, because they actually have to do the shit work out there in the real world.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Fully Committed plays through January 8, 2017, at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 548-9044, or purchase them online.

Note: MetroStage has partnered with the George Washington University Department of Theater and Dance, giving graduate students in the technical theater program an opportunity to add professional experience to their academic pursuits. Carl Gudenius, John Traub, Sigrid Johannesdottir, Bill Woodward, and the students in the GWU Scene Shop are listed in the MetroStage program.

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