Not My Cup of Tea
Alone on stage at the Aurora Fox, working on a set designed as a grimy basement, actor Greg Price is in almost constant motion, shuttling between the phone on his desk, a wall intercom and the red phone of an alarm box adorned with a huge blinking red light. From these torturous instruments come a succession of voices -- all of them Price's. He portrays Sam Peliczowski, who is manning the phones at a pretentiously expensive Manhattan restaurant. Most of the voices belong to people trying to make reservations: naive out-of-towners, who are quickly disposed of; whiny regulars; demanding VIPs. Sam also speaks to his agent, his father, his brother and various other restaurant staff members.
A lot of talent has been expended on this production, but it's hard to figure out why. Fully Committed has neither wit nor insight. There's very little plot, and what there is is contrived and paper-thin. Every caller is a stereotype: the Jewish princess; the supermodel's gay assistant; the sheik's secretary; good old, homespun, naive Dad; the egotistical, short-tempered chef; and -- offensively -- Mrs. Watanabe, sporting the caricatured Japanese accent we'd hoped never to hear after Mickey Rooney stopped doing it. Even the few nice people have no substance; they get one little verbal tic apiece to denote their niceness. There's a small, kindly moment when Sam realizes that an elderly woman's long complaint about her meal stems from loneliness, and he says, quietly, "Goodbye, honey" as he hangs up. There's also a long, drawn-out diarrhea gag guaranteed to delight any twelve-year-old boy in the audience. Finally, run ragged by increasingly hysterical and demanding callers, Sam exacts a series of small revenges, and the evening is over.
Plays about would-be actors' experiences in menial jobs seem to be an up-and-coming genre, a trend boosted by David Sedaris's Santaland Diaries, one of the best. But there's no thought in Becky Mode's Committed script. The food descriptions -- normally a rich lode for a writer -- are neither genuinely impressive nor deliriously silly and fantastical, just flat-footed. A restaurant of this caliber serving orange roughy? A top-flight chef blowing off Gourmet magazine?
Price has a gift for voices and accents, but the playwright's device of having the actor pick up the phone and then carry on a dialogue with himself never lost its staginess for me. And despite his charm and energy, Price is too old for the role: We might be convinced to care just a little about Sam if he were a befuddled twenty-something novice. Tech for this production is brilliant: Michael Duran's set is convincingly grungy and El Armstrong's sound design astonishing. Terry Dodd's direction is full of humorous touches. But the phones kept trilling, Price kept leaping up and down, funny voice followed funny voice, and all I could think about was getting home for a quiet cup of tea.
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