Art

Fully Committed: A Restaurant's Reservations Line Inspires Tour-de-Force Theater

Sean McLelland's scenic design for the Broward Center's Fully Committed is a prop-heavy treasure box that begs for more scrutiny than most audiences will give it. Minor details and unexplained trinkets fill the space — a Goodfellas poster, a baseball in a Lucite cube, a woman's purse, Christmas lights, and multicolored Post-its plastered everywhere like the ravings of a lunatic.

Take all the props away and you'll have an ominous brick basement with dim lighting. It houses the reservations department at a hundred-dollar-a-plate Manhattan restaurant, but without all the clutter, it would be a fine place to enhance-interrogate somebody. Only Sam Peliczowski (John Manzelli), the phone jockey for the restaurant's perennially buzzing line, doesn't need assistance in that department; the job itself is torturous enough.

The double-entendre in the title of playwright Becky Mode's dynamic 1999 solo show — "fully committed" suggests a diagnosis at Bellevue but is also restaurant-speak for a night where all reservations have been filled — speaks volumes about the show's manic energy, directed with unrelenting skill and polish by Manzelli and Hugh M. Murphy. In addition to Sam, Manzelli inhabits nearly 40 other characters in a single, unbroken, hour-and-a-half-long scene in which multiple crises collide in the manner of an Aaron Sorkin script, from detained employees to diarrheal bathrooms to a surprise visit from a Mr. Zagat.

As Sam, he paces the room with his headset, endures harangues from the coke-snorting chef on a separate, foreboding red phone line, and buzzes upstairs to query management. But mostly he maneuvers his wheeled office chair between the phone line and reservation tablet like a seasoned day trader.

As the unceasing parade of insistent callers — nearly all of whom desire the same perfect table at the same perfect time on the same weekend night — Manzelli's performance runs a gamut from mafiosi to nebbishy seniors, foreign dignitaries to 1 percent socialites, flamboyant supermodels' assistants' to uncomprehending Asians, all of them presented in unified, broad strokes but with obvious affection and without condescension. Thanks to shifts in Manzelli's physicality and the repetition of signature gestures, each archetype is fully formed and present, if only for the span it takes him or her to speak a sentence.

All things considered, the script could have been funnier, but this whiplash-inducing, marathon performance represents the strongest solo acting in South Florida since Outre Theatre Company's An Iliad in 2013 (kudos too to sound designer Matt Corey, who manages the constant interruptions of two landlines and a buzzer without missing a beat).

In the production's most poignant passages, Sam portrays his own elderly father, converting the office chair into a makeshift walker. The play is set around the holidays, and the senior Peliczowski, recently widowed, just wants his son home for Christmas. When Sam tells him he's forced to work, the hurt and disappointment are vivid on both of their faces. When he plays Sam's dad, Manzelli himself seems to age in front of our eyes.

Those allergic to one-man shows should note that Fully Committed avoids the clichéd trappings of the genre. There are no arch monologues, no stilted explanations of time and place, no breaking of the fourth wall. We're simply observing an afternoon in a man's harried life, with a few glimpses into the harried lives of others. It may be torture for Sam, but for us, it's an exhilarating experiment.

Fully Committed. Through February 1 at Broward Center's Abdo New River Room, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $45. Call 954-462-0222, or visit browardcenter.org.


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John Thomason
Contact: John Thomason