Aral Gribble is “Fully Committed” at Farmers Alley
It’s just another workday for Sam, an earnest out-of-work actor who sits in the basement of a four-star haute cuisine restaurant in New York booking reservations by phone for the rich and famous and the wanna-be rich and famous. But on this particular day, half of his co-workers haven’t shown, his sadistic boss makes particularly excessive demands.There’s no table for Mr. Zagat, and the phone incessantly rings off the hook with people even nuttier than the ones currently at the restaurant wanting to get in.
In Fully Committed, a highly amusing one-man show, currently at Farmers Alley Theatre, Aral Gribble miraculously embodies wildly distinct and hilarious characters: the uber-French maitre d’ drunk on power who refuses to take calls from a VIP customer because she has a face like a dog; the narcissistic sadistic coke-head chef who, like an overgrown frat boy, takes delight in forcing Sam to clean up after a customer with explosive bowels in the bathroom; a mobster; a paranoid hysteric; an indignant food critic; Sam’s lonely down-to-earth dad; Naomi Campbell’s perky, flamboyant, and high-strung personal assistant. It’s enough to land a guy “fully committed” in an asylum at the end of the day.
Though “fully committed” is restaurant speak for “booked solid,” it also means “completely in character” in the theatre world. And it’s both Becky Mode’s clever script, named by Time Magazine as one of the top ten plays of the year in 2000, as well as Robert Weiner’s solid direction coupled with Gribble’s extraordinary vocal and physical abilities to transform himself, that bring to life more than 30 clearly delineated and riotous characters in this fast-paced 80-minute show without intermission.
And what’s even more impressive than the small gestures and vocal tics that make these characters believable, such as the various mostly spot-on accents and Sam’s pushing his glasses up his nose and the way the maitre d’ speaks with the tips of his right fingers pressed together near his chest, is that Gribble, amid all those shifts and transitions, also inspires empathy. He captures the aspiring Midwesterner caught up in the madness of the flashy restaurant biz. He’s the underdog, an anti-hero that Kalamazoo audiences can get down with. His own story unfolds through phone calls with his dad, his brother, a guy from South Bend who knows his dad, a bitchy fellow actor, and his agent’s assistant—and we love him for his struggles and his sweetness despite them in a dog-eat-dog world.
So, nevermind that the hot celebrities in this 16-year-old script are long passé and that hardly anyone makes phone calls, especially to make dinner reservations when it’s de rigueur to do so online. Farmers Alley’s Fully Committed plays beautifully to its audiences, and while it’s very entertaining, it also has heart.