Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September, 2003

Watching an actor perform a one-person show is like watching an athlete, let’s say Lance Armstrong competing in the Tour de France. Can he do it? Will he fall? If so, will he be able to get up and continue? What unforeseen obstacles will crop up? And, in the end, will he come away a winner?

All of those questions hovered in my mind as the curtain went up on Ryan Cyrus Shams in Becky Mode’s one-man opus Fully Committed at the Theater Barn. There has been great buzz about this play in general. It seems to be the hot show in the regional theatre realm at the moment, and I was looking forward to seeing it. I liked Shams when he appeared in “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at the Theater Barn earlier this season and had a sense that he would be capable of tackling such a task. But, what if….??

The answer, thankfully, is that Shams takes home the gold. And it is no easy feat. Mode’s play, set in the basement of an impossibly chic New York City restaurant where a put-upon would-be-actor named Sam works as the junior reservations clerk, requires that Shams play not only Sam, but every single person he speaks to on the phone. In other words, Shams is literally out there talking to himself for about 75 minutes. And he only has those first precious 10-15 minutes to convince the audience to buy into this premise.

Not only is there the challenge of convincingly playing several parts in rapid succession, but there is the problem of making it interesting to watch someone talk on the phone for a little over an hour. Shams and director Peter Flynn solve this with the placement of different phones and intercoms in disparate locations on the set, and by having Shams assume not only the voice but the mannerisms of the different characters. These two devices keep Shams in perpetual motion, and add to the sense of stress in Sam’s life.

Shams is a versatile and likeable performer. You feel genuinely sorry for his vulnerable Sam, you are ready to punch his cocky Chef in the nose (especially at the end of Act I), and his Carol Ann Rosenstein-Fishburn really does have a face like a catfish. I was especially fond of his rendition of the super-enthusiastic “Bryce, from Naomi Campbell’s office,” who calls repeatedly with wild demands for seating, food, and even lighting to suit his employer’s taste.

Abe Phelps has designed a nifty little set. I am sure that he went and raided the basement of a nearby real-life restaurant for the set dressing, because it looked absolutely authentic. No one is given credit for the sound design, which is quite elaborate, as you can imagine, for a show that depends heavily on sound cues from ringing and buzzing communications devices. I assume that Sarah Blagg, the Production Stage Manager, was the woman at the switch, and she did a fine job indeed.

So while the production and performance were top notch, I was left slightly dissatisfied with Mode’s script. Of course, whenever you are told repeatedly that a play is the best thing since sliced bread you are bound to be disappointed. I found the script pat and formulaic, but it did avoid the danger of becoming one overly-long comedy sketch. Actually, Mode is credited as the writer, but Fully Committed is based on characters developed by Mode and Mark Setlock during a time when they both worked at an impossibly chic New York City restaurant, she as a waitress and he as (can you guess?) a reservations clerk. So the show really did have its genesis as a comedy sketch, and it is to Mode’s credit that she was able to construct a workable plot on which to hang Setlock’s dead-on parodies of uppity restaurant customers and those who long to be them.

Fully Committed runs through October 12 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs an hour and a half with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003

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