George Street Playhouse
Twenty-four-hour stream available on demand through April 11, $33
In my review of the 2016 Broadway premiere of Becky Mode’s Fully Committed at the Lyceum, in which Jesse Tyler Ferguson portrayed a struggling actor taking phone reservations at a hot New York City restaurant as well as forty other characters, I wrote, “It might work in small, intimate theaters, but on Broadway it feels more like an interesting comedy sketch that never ends.” The one-person show has now found just the right table setting in the George Street Playhouse’s tasty virtual adaptation, running online through April 11.
One of the most produced plays in America since its debut in 1999 at the Vineyard Theatre and subsequent long transfer at the Cherry Lane, Fully Committed requires an immensely talented, intrinsically likable actor, and director David Saint has found that in Maulik Pancholy, who embodies the protagonist, Sam, as well as dozens of other characters, including the hotheaded chef; Sam’s coworker, Bob, who is supposed to be helping him on the phones but is stuck in traffic; such demanding VIP customers as Bunny Vandevere and Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn; Bryce, Gwyneth Paltrow’s assistant, who is arranging a special party with unusual requests; and his friend Jerry, who is often up for the same parts as Sam. He also portrays his own father, who desperately wants him to come home for the first Christmas the family will celebrate after the loss of Sam’s mother, although Sam is scheduled to work that day. For each character, Pancholy, wearing a headset and a blue zippered sweatshirt over a button-down shirt, adopts a different voice as well as body movement, shifting back and forth smoothly.
The ninety-minute show takes place in a cluttered, messy downstairs office filled with file cabinets, trashcans, a coat rack, a Boston Red Sox pennant, music posters, and Broadway memorabilia, which in 2021 reminds us what we are all missing. (The appropriately crowded art direction is by Helen Tewksbury.) It was shot by cinematographer and editor Michael Boylan in the basement of George Street Playhouse board member Sharon Karmazin’s home on a lake in New Jersey; the company also filmed its previous online play, Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates, in the house, as well as its next production, Nia Vardalos’s Tiny Beautiful Things, streaming May 4-23.
Boylan’s camerawork provides an intimacy and connection that was lost in the Broadway staging. Pancholy, who has appeared in such television series as 30 Rock and Weeds and on Broadway in Grand Horizons in addition to writing the award-winning middle grade novel The Best at It (for which I served as managing editor), is seen in closeup and longer shots that help define the claustrophobia and loneliness Sam is experiencing, from his mother’s death and his breakup with his boyfriend to his inability to snare a quality acting job and the abandonment of his colleague, Bob, who has left him all by himself to handle crisis after crisis. Although the play has not been rewritten to incorporate a much more significant crisis, the coronavirus, the pandemic hovers in the dank air, particularly at a time when restaurants are only just opening up for indoor dining and actors are hoping to get back to work now that some venues are beginning to experiment with limited-capacity in-person shows.
Fully Committed might not satiate your hunger for food — the chef’s complicated “molecular gastronomy” doesn’t sound very appetizing — but the play will quench your thirst for high-quality theater in these difficult times.