personalities: Oliver Wadsworth in Fully Committed.
By James Yeara
Becky Mode, directed by Martha Banta
Capital Repertory Theatre, through Dec.
The stairway to heaven is upstage center. Large-bulbed Christmas
lights wrap around the bannister. The stairway leads up, but
it doesn’t reach to a top floor; it just ends in the air.
Two folding tables meet at right angles center stage, and
two bare metal folding chairs and one rolling chair sit before
answering machines and phones on the tables. The tables have
file folders and clipboards cluttering the space. Rows of
metal storage cases line the upstage wall, filled with supplies,
and a bright red phone hangs on a beam supporting the stairway.
The floor is green-and-maroon tiles—dirty, dingy, and scruffed.
The set definitely creates a sense of “below,” a confined
place beneath where everyone wants to be, a place where only
someone forced to be at the folding tables would be at the
folding tables. In a one-man play that could cheaply be done
before a black curtain, Donald Eastman’s set is a good sign
that attention is being paid.
Committed is as good as the set. This is the best holiday
fare Capital Rep has produced, and the most entertaining presents
anyone could receive this season are tickets to see Oliver
Wadsworth create the 36 characters that he shares with the
audience. Wadsworth doesn’t so much pretend these characters
into being as he channels them. His art is beyond an obvious
show of physical effort, which would draw more attention to
itself and less to the characters. This production is fun,
engaging and surprisingly triumphant theater that tiptoes
across a trenchant edge: How many people in the audience identify
with Sam (the set-upon receptionist for a pretentious Manhattan
restaurant) versus how many people in the audience identify—or
could be identified—with the pretentious, status-obsessed
clientele Sam juggles on the phone?
Committed can be enjoyed simply for Wadsworth’s tour de
force characterizations. With a shift in the angle of his
head, a squeezing of his soft palate, or twisting of a vertebrae
or two, Wadsworth moves from the earnest and likable Sam,
a struggling actor in a low-status part-time job, to Mrs.
Bunny Vendevere, a wealthy wife whose sense of entitlement
is thicker than her mink-stole voice, to the sadistic and
vaguely Jack Nicholson-esque chef Jean-Claude, who turns out
to be all sauce, no entrée. Wadsworth deftly captures the
preening matrons and namedropping “see-me-I’m-here” poseurs.
The shifts and turns and returns of characters are accomplished
with a breakneck pace that would suit the serving needs of
even the trendiest restaurant on a Saturday night. That Wadsworth
creates both the genial, transplanted-Indianan decency of
Sam and the giddy smoothness of the Smarmy Man, who buys his
way onto the reservation list for an overbooked Saturday night
in three slick conversations, give testimony to Wadsworth’s
talent and ability.
Committed makes full use of this talent and ability with
its story of the underdog making good, which takes this production
beyond being just a character festival. Director Martha Banta
keeps what through line there is in Fully Committed
strong, and the best moments in the production are when Sam
talks to his father, whose “okie-doke” shifts ever so slightly
as it becomes apparent that the newly widowed father will
be alone this Christmas. That Sam earns his triumphs at the
play’s end, learning what Curtis, his agent’s secretary, calls
“a strong sense of personal entitlement” without being a crass
user, and that the “I’ll be home for Christmas” ending doesn’t
feel Chicken Soup for the Soul-ish, make Fully Committed
a rare holiday treat: satisfyingly tasty without the saccharine.