Performing a one-person show can be a daunting task. After all, even in a two-person show there's someone else to guide you should you go astray, or come up suddenly blank. Of course, you also need a good script or, at least a sturdy framework, to allow the actor to succeed. But, when both of these things click, it's a wondrous thing to experience. That's exactly what occurs in Stray Dog Theatre's brilliant production of Fully Committed, as sharp direction (Gary Bell), impeccable acting (Greg Fenner), and a funny play (Becky Mode) come together in must-see fashion.
During a particular grueling day at work, Sam, a struggling actor, encounters a variety of different characters, just about all of whom are looking to get something from him. He's the assistant taker of phone reservations, and his boss, Bob, has called in late. The Chef is bellowing out orders from one phone while he hides from a photographer from a magazine who he disdains because of a bad review they gave of his culinary skills. The owner is constantly calling to check on things and deal with any questions about the status of certain customers since the restaurant is "fully committed". In other words, Sam is dealing calls with from celebrities, his lonely father and brother who are hounding him about what he's going to at Christmas since he's due to work, and a plethora of people who desperately want a reservation, and will do nearly anything to get one. This requires a tremendous amount of patience and juggling on Sam's part. Sadly, his day doesn't get any better before it gets worse when he's enlisted to do a pretty dreadful act, which is definitely not in his job description. Yet, in the end things are definitely beginning to look up.
What makes this little "day in the life" story so engaging is the consummate work of Greg Fennner as Sam, as well as every other character who makes an appearance. It's a tour de force performance, and I was knocked out by how smoothly he transitioned from Sam to whoever he was dealing with and back again. If there is only one reason to see this show, it's Fenner's work. His work as Sam is compelling, and we feel his pain as he's bullied and bribed by some of the caller. We're especially privy to his emotions when he deals with his recently widowed father.
Gary Bell's direction is very assured, and Fenner never breaks characters or stumbles even once. The set is simple and, even though they might allow this piece to become a bit static, it never does. There's just enough movement throughout to maintain the viewer's attention. Tyler Duenow lights the action with his usual aplomb.
Go see Stray Dog's excellent production of Fully Committed! It continues through December 22, 2012 at the Tower Grove Abbey.