By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Written by TV sitcom staffer Becky Mode, directed by Daniel Goldstein, Fully Committed presents one actor, Ethan Sandler, playing more than 30 characters. His main role is Sam Pelichowski, an aspiring thesp working a crummy day job as reservations clerk for a posh Manhattan restaurant. Stuck in a cluttered basement below the dining room, Sam juggles the constantly ringing phones and nonstop interruptions via the intercom from the kitchen and bar upstairs and the buzzing red hotline directly connected to the volatile chef.
With the face of a young Shelley Berman (the '60s stand-up comic) and enough goofy voices to guarantee a future at Hanna-Barbera, Sandler morphs in and out of characters in a blink. One second he's Sam, trying to break bad news to his slow-talking dad calling from the Midwest, then he's the dad, then he's the ticked-off chef, the harried maître d', a pushy businessman trying to score a table, a whiny matron complaining that her AARP card doesn't get her a discount for dinner. And so on and so on. Like a ventriloquism act without puppets.
Sandler, who's performed this show in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., is a likable chap who works up a healthy sweat as he pops in and out of the various personae. But is his an unforgettable performance? No. More like second-rate Robin Williams shtick.
With no plot, only one actor and characters so stereotyped that the Japanese voice actually says he wants to "leserve" a table for "runch," Fully Committed gets tiresome quickly. Mode drops famous names onto the menu--Naomi Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Diane Sawyer--but then blows all chances to get laughs from the references. One obvious joke is telegraphed by the set. Signs on all three walls warn Sam "No reservations from Ned Finlay." Whoever Ned Finlay is doesn't matter. We do know that at some point Ned Finlay will call and somehow scam a table out of Sam. And he does. And the joke falls flatter than a cement soufflé.
The Dallas Theater Center this season is killing itself with huge productions of trendy trivia like Big Love, Be Aggressive and Fully Committed. Audiences expect more from DTC, a theater with a 40-year history of premiering great new plays performed by top-tier actors. Now it's like a fine restaurant where the chef has lost the recipe for beef Wellington and instead puts a tiny, overpriced dollop of hash on bone china and calls it an entrée. At these prices, there needs to be better grub on the plate.