Theatre Aspen’s ‘Fully Committed’: Highly recommended, no reservations |

Theatre Aspen’s ‘Fully Committed’: Highly recommended, no reservations

Leigh Vogel The Aspen Times

It’s hard not to be blown away by Matt Bailey’s performance in Theatre Aspen’s production of “Fully Committed.” In Becky Mode’s comedy, directed by Theatre Aspen veteran Jay Sandrich, Bailey is the lone actor, playing some 40 characters, all of them spinning around the dizzyingly busy reservations desk of a hot-spot New York restaurant. Never mind the sheer number of characters Bailey has to voice; “Fully Committed” is a rapid-fire virtuoso piece, as Sam, the beleaguered reservations clerk, takes phone calls from an abusive chef, slacking co-workers, his elderly father and diners who range in difficulty from demanding to clueless. Every voice, every beat, every joke, every nuance is entirely on Bailey’s back.

On July 19, Bailey — who has a 41st role this summer, featured as the student rebel Enjolras in Theatre Aspen’s “Les Miserables” — handled this chaos without a hitch, a testament to infinite technique. But Bailey also pulled off the equally noteworthy trick of making the virtuosity look — well, not invisible exactly, that would be impossible — as if it were not the point of the show. Bailey doesn’t exaggerate the multiple voices or the speed of the action. So in contrast to, say, last summer’s Theatre Aspen production of “The 39 Steps,” which was entirely about how many stage stunts you could cram into a performance, “Fully Committed” leaves room for the audience to be satisfied by its other elements: the emotions of a character, capturing a cultural zeitgeist, even old-fashioned storytelling.

It shouldn’t get lost that “Fully Committed” nails the comic cruelty of the post-recession American workplace. (This despite that the play premiered in 1999.) Is there any employed person who cannot relate to the demands of a job that border on the surreal? Or how work squeezes out time and energy for family and dreams outside the cubicle? The script and the pace never sacrifice laughs or pace, but the basis for the laughter is a fundamental truth: Our jobs are draining us.

“Fully Committed” shows its savvy by letting one character be the center of all the action. None of the other voices speaks to the others; Sam is the spoke for all the conversations — with Bryce, Naomi Campbell’s aggressively effeminate assistant; with the megalomaniacal chef; with the eternally dissatisfied socialite Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn; with the missing-in-action co-worker Bob; and with the rest of the stress-inducing lot. It is a wise technical choice; even if Bailey could handle the insults and commands being lobbed from character to character, I doubt the audience could. But keeping Sam centered — dramatically if not mentally — allows the theatergoer to fully sympathize with him. We get Sam’s desire to spend Christmas with his dad, his nervous auditioning process for a part at a Lincoln Center production and how his stupid, pointless job interferes with those pursuits.

“Fully Committed” also unfolds a good story. Almost to my disbelief, I was absorbed mostly not by the pace, not by Bailey’s acrobatics but simply wanting to know what was going to happen next. That’s the essence of good storytelling.

Here’s how much I managed to overlook exactly what it was Bailey was doing onstage. I expressed my disappointment that the show ended after just 70 minutes; I really wanted more. The person to whom I expressed this disappointment needed to remind me that 70 minutes was about the limit any actor could be expected to sustain this energy. Point well taken.

“Fully Committed” is an absolute high point of Theatre Aspen’s recent history — as impressive in its way as “Les Mis,” with its cast of 20-plus and extraordinary production values, and even more entertaining.

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