By Jim Sulzer, Contributing Writer
As you walk away from Theatre Workshop of Nantucket’s hilarious, don’t-miss production of Becky Mode’s inventive comedy “Fully Committed,” you may ask yourself: Was that really just one actor?
It’s hard to believe, but it truly is just one actor: the endlessly-versatile Daniel Quadrino. In this scintillating one-person show, Quadrino creates not only one quite likable main character, but also dozens of colorful supporting characters, through 80 minutes of non-stop fun under the insightful, creative direction of Gina Rattan.
“Non-stop” is the operant word here. Quadrino (who comes to TWN with impressive Broadway and television credits) plays Sam, an unemployed actor who has taken a day job as a reservationist for Manhattan’s hottest restaurant. It’s the sort of place where you might pay $300 for a dish of “smoked cuttlefish risotto in a cloud of dry ice infused with pipe tobacco,” and throngs of entitled elites are clamoring to get in.
The problem is, the restaurant is sold out (“fully committed,” in the chef’s jargon) for the next three months. There are so many VIPs in the restaurant’s secret files that they are color-coded (red, magenta) to designate which ones might deserve a last-minute table.
Though he is alone on the stage, Quadrino is supported by a multiplicity of sound cues – buzzers, telephone rings, dial tones and the like – impeccably provided by sound designer Charles Coes and sound engineer Sean McGinley. These cues are crucial to the relentless pace of the piece.
Down in his basement cave – abandoned by co-workers who are a no-show for the day – Sam labors mightily to meet the ever-more-urgent telephone demands of the would-be clientele of the restaurant, while also trying to placate his impossible boss and some insouciant wait staff.
He also receives personal phone calls from family (his sad, bemused father, his selfrighteous, judgmental brother) and from some “friends” such as a fellow actor with a highly toxic, passive- aggressive streak. In his spare moments, Sam places a series of painfully awkward calls to his agent, setting up one of the plot lines of the play: Sam’s ongoing struggles to advance his acting career through the exhausting process of auditions and callbacks.
A number of the characters make frequent appearances on the phone lines, setting up several different story lines. Which raises a question partway through the play: How can Mode keep all the storylines straight, much less resolve them all?
No problem. Like a master puppeteer gathering up a handful of multicolored strings into one coherent whole, Mode engineers an ending that brilliantly resolves the main plot lines in one fell swoop. It’s heartwarming and believable, and more importantly, it feels like our main character has received his just-desserts as he starts to understand the rules of the game: status and leverage.
All this works because of Quadrino’s epic performance. Switching with seamless virtuosity between different voices and characters, Quadrino gives us scores of conversations between Sam and a teeming host of others, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal assistant, a member of the mob, a technician at a helicopter company, any number of entitled and obnoxious clientele, and his domineering, boastful boss, the chef. All the voices are memorable, and some are simply hilarious.
Through almost every moment of the play, Quadrino keeps the various speakers clearly differentiated, with sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic shifts in tone of voice and body language.
The basement workroom, by set designer Peter Waldron, is a rollicking mix of over-stuffed storage and cramped workspace. With several rolling chairs, a cluttered desk and a staircase, it provides all the physical backdrop Quadrino requires.
The glimpse behind the scenes of restaurant life is compelling and often harrowing. It seems especially germane to Nantucket, where so much of the population works in industries that offer the finest in service to visitors and summer residents on our beautiful, sought-after island.
Behind the creation of each perfectly-manicured lawn and exquisite meal is the invisible labor of scores of workers, who like Sam, must overcome challenges of their own, both in the workplace and in their private lives.
Kudos to Theatre Workshop for offering this piece of theater, so relevant to our island, and so deliciously entertaining.
With original music composed by Benedict Braxton-Smith. Lighting design by Stephen Petrilli. Costume design by Austin Woodward. The artistic director of TWN is Justin Cerne.