Stray Dog

Play: Fully Committed

Group: Stray Dog Theatre

Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue

Dates: Dec. 14, 15, 20, 21, 22

Tickets: $18-$20; 865-1995 or

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Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Story: Sam is a struggling young actor in New York City. To make ends meet, he toils away, taking reservations in the cramped, windowless basement office of a tony restaurant in Manhattan. A typical day for Sam is dealing with upper-class sorts, making calls for the ‘best’ table at the trendy establishment, as well as taking myriad and maddening orders from the maitre d’, the executive chef and his co-workers. He also gets to listen to the sundry excuses offered by his talent agent for Sam’s painfully meager acting assignments.

Not only is the restaurant ‘fully committed,’ as in the parlance preferred by the executive chef that indicates ‘filled to the brim’ with diners, but Sam is on the brink of losing his sanity, as well, especially with Christmas approaching and his prospects of going home to South Bend, Ind., increasingly unlikely.

Highlights: This one-act comedy has been a hit ever since it was conceived by playwright Becky Mode and performer Mark Setlock in 1998. Mode and Setlock both worked at a trendy TriBeCa restaurant, where Setlock manned the reservations hotline, and from their experiences carved out this delicious, delightful and also poignant tale. A single performer, Greg Fenner, essays an incredible 41 roles in the 90-minute work.

Somehow, director Gary Bell precisely navigates Fenner through this mind-numbing maze of characters, each of which the actor presents as different from the others in his whimsically creative fashion. It’s a tour de force performance that is all the more ingratiating for the way that Fenner keeps focused on the story rather than capitulating to easy laughs, resulting in a remarkable and frenzied evening of achievement.

Fenner’s work is anchored by the portrayal of Sam as a genial, energetic young man who resorts to periodic, impromptu exercises to re-energize his spirits after each flurry of frenetic phone calls. He’s also the arrogant executive chef, the timid receptionist, the officious maitre d’, etc. There also are a couple of calls from home from Sam’s widowed dad, inquiring about his son’s possible visit for the holidays, which offer an appealing contrast to the brash tenor that most frequently assaults Sam’s auditory senses, as well as an unexpected caller from South Bend who provides Mode with the convenient, if unlikely, opportunity to flesh out Sam’s back story.

Fully Committed is an engaging and charming piece and a smart choice by Bell for a holiday offering. That’s especially so with the gifted Fenner decking the halls of Tower Grove Abbey with his magnificent performances—all 41 of them.

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