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Stage Review

Few reservations about ‘Fully’

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / July 26, 2010

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Is there a job that is less rewarding or appealing than being tethered to a telephone, juggling reservations for the entitled at a sizzling-hot four-star Manhattan eatery? With the exception of cleaning elephant dung, coal mining, or serving as Lindsay Lohan’s attorney, the answer is probably no. The classism, social jockeying, bullying, petty threats, and downright harassment faced by reservations clerk Sam Peliczowski in Becky Mode’s comedy “Fully Committed’’ would push even the strongest man to look more fondly at a career with the bomb squad.

At the start of a new production staged al fresco at Christian Herter Park and briskly directed by Steven Barkhimer, we get a view of the put-upon Sam as the Midwestern everyman who has come to New York to pursue a career in acting. But instead of receiving callbacks for Taco Bell commercials, he’s found himself in the dungeon of the city’s restaurant-of-the-moment, serving as telephone ringmaster to patrons who are willing to do nearly anything to get a seat at coveted table 31, or a forkful of the jicama-smoked Scottish wood squab, poached in ginger broth and wrapped in wilted spinach.

Gabriel Kuttner plays Sam like a grounded but sarcastic Jimmy Stewart (minus all “Aw shucks’’ moments), exuding the proper amount of eye rolling and temple rubbing to demonstrate his measured frustration with the likes of status-grubbing Carolyn Rosenstein-Fishberg, or Naomi Campbell’s browbeaten but well-caffeinated assistant Bryce.

Kuttner has the arduous task of playing all of these characters — from the vain, petulant chef with the personality of the Marquis de Sade to the mysteriously despised reservation-seeker Ned Finlay. In fact, Kuttner plays 37 characters for this one-man show. With few pauses, he deliciously sends up these broadly drawn stereotypes of Manhattan’s elite, as well as those who want nothing more than to rub elbows with them. The insecurities are palpable as Kuttner jumps from one character to the next like an actor with multiple personality disorder who has mistakenly stirred methamphetamine into his coffee instead of nondairy creamer.

As originally presented off-Broadway in 1999, this was a one-act play with no intermission. This production adds an intermission, which the audience needs to catch its breath as much as the actor. Propelled by Kuttner’s manic energy, “Fully Committed’’ zips like a professional ping-pong match and reaches a boiling point as Sam faces withering acting jobs, the possibility of missing Christmas with his widowed father, and a particularly disturbing incident in a restaurant powder room that needs cleaning.

Kuttner’s performance is undermined only by the material itself. Written two recessions ago, “Fully Committed’’ is a time capsule of late 1990s excess and name dropping in a frantic time of Clintonian prosperity. Cultural references not yet have steeped to the point of full nostalgia, nor are they still fresh. This is problematic for a show that was lauded 11 years ago for its spry cultural sendups. Does anyone really still use the telephone to access voice personals through the Village Voice? Would dancehall singer Shaggy still be considered a VIP at a hot Manhattan eatery? Nevertheless, Mode’s dialogue remains a crisp misanthropic diatribe about the world that she was clearly a part of in the 1990s.

Kuttner, looking haggard and disheveled by the end of the show’s 73 minutes, eats up the material like the chef’s prized polenta, and despite the fact that this is a stressful show, it’s a genuine relief to see Sam the reservationist turn the tables on his oppressors by the play’s end.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.

FULLY COMMITTED Play by Becky Mode

Directed by: Steven Barkhimer. Set, Cristina Todesco. Sound, Bill Barclay.

At: Outdoor Amphitheatre at Christian Herter Park, Brighton, through Aug. 15. Tickets $15. www.fullycommittedboston.com