The West Boca Theatre Company, sidelined for the better part of two seasons by a coronavirus shutdown, is back in business. The kickoff for its 2021-22 schedule is a frantically paced, one-man show called Fully Committed, a day-in-the-life, depiction of a person clearly overwhelmed by his demanding job.
The show plays through Sunday, Nov. 21 in the Beifield Auditorium on the campus of the Levis Jewish Community Center in West Boca Raton.
Director Alan Nash has commissioned a talented actor, Mark Hernandez, who hectically portrays Sam Peliczowski, the unfortunate guy who staffs the reservations phone at a swanky, New York restaurant populated by high-strung, high-society folks who clearly want their own desires taken care of first and foremost.
Actor Mark Hernandez stars in Fully Committed for the West Boca Theatre Co. at the Levis JCC in West Boca Raton.
Amazingly, Hernandez not only gives life to Sam, but also voices every other character in the show – the callers as well as the staff of the restaurant itself – including The Chef, who quickly takes on the role of main antagonist.
“One man, forty crazy characters” states the information card for the show that continues Thursday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2.
Playwright Becky Mode, also an actress and television producer based in New York City, crafted the script for this show that taps into the apprehensions of every employee who has ever had to wrestle with the clock and meet deadlines to avoid angering “the boss.”
Mode studied theater and American history at Wesleyan University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Her major accomplishments include the play Fully Committed co-created with Mark Setlock, and several episodes of the NBC TV series Smash and the Netflix show, Unbelievable.
In the West Boca Theatre Co. production, Sam is juggling a couple of personal matters in addition to dealing with a raft of frenetic telephone calls. An out-of-work actor, he is anxiously awaiting a callback for a significant role at Lincoln Center. He takes time out now and then just to keep in touch with the agency that promises to call back with the vital information.
In the meantime, about 99.9 percent of Sam’s time is devoted to dealing with callers ranging from acerbic to fuming, mildly demanding to over-the-top. Coercion, threats and bribes from a variety of desperate hopeful customers are brought to life by this sole performer, proving that people will stop at nothing to land a prime reservation or the right table at a dining spot that caters to A-List celebs.
As the audience learns during the 90-minute performance with no intermission, Sam must juggle scheming socialites, name‐dropping wannabes, fickle personalities and his own egomaniacal boss. But he remains optimistic about making it home for the holidays.
That’s the subplot. Now and then, Sam gets a call from his laid-back father, whose desire to speak with his son is homey and gratifying. In fact, during all the running-around, the dad calls give Sam and the audience a necessary break – albeit brief – from the chaotic goings-on.
The calls from dad are particularly intriguing. The elder caller always signs off with “Okee Doke,” a closing salutation that had many of us in the audience thinking of holidays long ago spent with our own fathers.
Sam keeps telling his pop he’s been desperately trying to get time off to travel home, but he’s being thwarted by a senior employee, Bob, who is already eyeballing holiday time away from the office.
Actually, Bob’s misrepresentations and back-stabbing behavior work against him in the end, and to Sam’s benefit.
Among his calls, Sam must deal with the insistent assistant to actor Gwyneth Paltrow, another woman who screeches her name every time she calls and lots of people who just won’t take no for an answer.
Actually, the audience might have laughed more if they didn’t feel so badly for Sam. Most folks in the gallery who’ve worked in similar, overly tense environments commiserated with the overwrought phone answerer and chose not to worsen the situation with laughter.
Sam doesn’t spend 90 minutes in his chair. He has to run to the red phone on the wall to take calls from The Chef – conversations that get testier and more filled with rude language. He runs to the other wall to communicate with the staff upstairs on an intercom.
It takes a while, but Sam realizes that when you’re in the restaurant reservations game, it’s not what you know, it’s who. When he plays the game for himself, he earns the benefits for which he’s been fighting.
Actor Hernandez is very good at his craft. The performer who previously appeared at the JCC in Promises, Promises and Handle with Care not only meets, but exceeds the challenge of bringing 40 characters to the table – literally. He deftly maneuvers the slow, curving turn from frenzied to feeling good when he brings the difficulties under control, restores order and leaves with a feeling of accomplishment.