As I gleefully watched Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s brilliant tour de force performance in this one man telephone marathon called Fully Committed, I pictured him playing so many leading characters from years gone by. What a Music Man he would make, how tragicomically he would capture Pseudolus the Slave in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, how attractively nerdy his Albert Peterson would be in Bye, Bye Birdie, what a natural nice guy he would be in Promises, Promises, and on and on way back to George Kelly’s obnoxious yet lovable title character in The Show Off. But rest assured Mr. Ferguson has found himself a role and a half in “Sam and Others” in this riotous comedy by Becky Mode, based on characters created by Ms. Mode and Mark Setlock.
Sam is an out of work actor who’s trying to make ends meet by fully committing himself to a temp job as reservations manager at a “world renowned, absolutely red-hot Manhattan restaurant.” He’s supposed to be aided by someone named Bob, but Bob calls in to say his car broke down, leaving Sam on his own to handle the seemingly dozens of would-be-diners who demand reservations for two, four and sometimes fifteen. But the restaurant is totally booked (excuse me, “fully committed”) in these highly congested pre-Christmas evenings, and it’s Sam’s job to keep all those crazy people happy by suggesting they try again later, perhaps “in February.”
Mr. Ferguson is required to play all the roles, as he’s the only actor on stage. If you’ve ever tried to play the caller and the callee for 90 minutes, you know how difficult it would be to instantly characterize, at least vocally and sometimes with body motion as well, dozens of very different people. However, Mr. Ferguson, who plays just one central figure on TV’s Modern Family, takes on the task, and carries it off brilliantly.
The callers range from Sam’s very sweet and tender Dad to the most officious woman in the world (described by the Maitre d’, who screams over the phone, “She is So Ugly!) to Bob, the missing associate, to the agent-from-hell who is Sam’s representative. Little girls call, women of power call, group organizers call, and Jesse Ferguson gets to play every one of them, all the while trying desperately to inch Sam’s acting career forward by praying for a callback on an important audition he’d recently completed.
Derek McLane has designed a basement set, which offers Sam a phone with at least five lines, all of which are often lit at the same time. There is another red instrument that connects directly to the Chef upstairs. To keep things even livelier, Sam has a cell phone, and it’s put to good use as well. Escape from this underground jungle is a long and steep staircase which in itself will ultimately add to the general merriment.
There’s even a back story of peripheral characters, like Sam’s dad, brother, and agent, to give this 90 minute monologue the feeling of a full length play with just enough subtext to give it substance. There is an ark to the proceedings, and the climax occurs just where it should, and leads to an ending that is satisfying and full of fun. And that’s what I think you’ll join me in feeling at evening’s end. It’s always satisfying and fun and exciting to discover a brilliantly talented comedian with star quality -like Jesse Tyler Ferguson-who is himself fully committed to knocking himself out for our pleasure.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with an intermission.