Without reservation, ‘Fully Committed’ at NextStop is a delight

The script gives an actor the opportunity for a sparkling display of comic virtuosity, and Jaclyn Young takes full advantage.

“Where are you, Bob?”

Her ongoing search for an AWOL co-worker is but one of the many trials besetting reservations clerk Sam Callahan, left alone with ever-ringing phones in the cluttered basement office of a hyper-trendy, hyper-expensive, hyper-pretentious Manhattan restaurant in Becky Mode’s Fully Committed, now playing at Herndon’s NextStop Theatre.

Trials? Try about 40 of them. There are co-workers, notably a profane, bullying Chef and the excitable Maitre-D’ Jean-Claude. Most of all, there is a regiment of wealthy, prominent, well-connected customers who demand a prime table at peak dinner hour despite the restaurant being “fully committed” (i.e., sold out) for the next three months.

Jaclyn Young as Sam Callahan in ‘Fully Committed.’ Photos courtesy of NextStop Theatre.

Everyone involved is played by one actor, who must carry both sides of every phone conversation, making split-second switches between Sam and the caller, then racing to another phone to get the next call, while several more await on hold. For the play to work, each caller must have a distinctive voice, accent, and physicality.

Casting the right actor to meet the play’s demands for unstinting energy and a wild variety of vocal and physical characterizations is key to a production’s success. NextStop made a brilliant choice in engaging Jaclyn Young for the role. The script gives an actor the opportunity for a sparkling display of comic virtuosity, and Young takes full advantage of the opportunity.

Beginning with the initial 1999 off-Broadway production, and including the revised 2016 Broadway mounting and several regional productions, Sam has been played by male actors. Director Jennifer Redford’s decision to cast a woman — especially one of Young’s ability — adds resonance to the story of a low-paid employee subject to the caprices of blustering, ego-driven supervisors, as when the Chef orders her to clean out a restroom that has been soiled by a patron’s “accident.”

The aspiring diners confronting Sam are a memorable lot, such as the domineering socialite Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, who’s appalled that she has been on hold for fully two minutes, the unappeasable Mrs. Sebag, and the pestering Bunny Vandervere. Then there’s Bryce, the personal assistant for Gwyneth Paltrow, who insists on a quite peculiar legume-free vegan menu.

Some of the dishes offered for $250 to $300 per person are themselves comic, if not necessarily gastronomic, masterpieces, such as “smoked cuttlefish risotto in a cloud of dry ice infused with pipe tobacco” or “nitro-frozen shaved foie gras enshrouded in a liquid chicken-filled orb.” (In a 2016 interview, Mode commented that she has not followed all the developments in “molecular gastronomy,” saying that “I have two kids and I get take-out sushi mostly….”)

The succession of calls, and Sam’s deft handling of them, would not carry a 90-minute show by themselves. Gradually, the script introduces elements of Sam’s personal life that she tries to deal with between calls. Her widowed father wants her to come home for Christmas. She is feeling the effects of a recent breakup. Her cable bill is overdue. A struggling actor, Sam has auditioned for a role at Lincoln Center and anxiously calls her agent asking for news. Meanwhile, her frenemy Jenny does not hesitate to let her know that she has already gotten a callback for the same role.

These parts of the story allow Sam’s character to gain depth beyond her interactions with customers and restaurant staff. People have lives beyond work, after all, that can involve family, loss, and things that hold us back from what we strive toward. Mode steers Sam to a positive conclusion in which she uses her smarts in office politics to put herself in a better position to achieve some things that matter to her.

Jaclyn Young as Sam Callahan in ‘Fully Committed.’ Photo courtesy of NextStop Theatre.

For a one-actor play, Fully Committed requires a fairly complex physical production. Evan Hoffman’s set design is a detailed, realistic evocation of a back office, a gritty workspace beneath the glamorous restaurant above. The set, with phones, desks, and chairs spaced sufficiently apart to allow Sam to jump from one place to another as phones go off, allows movement that prevents the show from becoming static. Hoffman’s sound design provides impeccable timing for the multitude of phone rings, as well as some subtle touches that signal the show’s updates from its original 1999 setting. For example, Sam’s cell phone ring consists of the opening notes from Hamilton.

Young received a standing ovation at show’s end. She deserved it. Her performance in a very challenging role in a very funny play makes for a delightful evening for the audience.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

Fully Committed plays through November 21, 2021, at NextStop Theatre, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA. Tickets ($25) are available for purchase online.

NextStop’s COVID Patron Safety Policies are here.

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