Gabriel Kuttner is Master of 40 Faces in ‘Fully Committed’ (5 stars)

by Johnny Monsarrat

Fully Committed, presented by the New Repertory Theatre, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA. Written by Becky Mode; Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary; featuring Gabriel Kuttner. Dec 19-30, 2012.

While Fully Committed isn’t a Christmas-themed play, the comedy takes place during the holidays and you’ll find it as uplifting as A Christmas Carol, without the ghosts and platitudes. Sam works in a fancy restaurant’s basement taking reservation phone calls, trapped between angry patrons who want their favorite table and his boss and fellow staff who blame him for every customer complaint. Thus Sam is kept in the crucible while dozens of calls come in, often simultaneously, at a whirlwind pace. Sam is the everyman. Who hasn’t felt powerless and overwhelmed at a job?

A play set in a basement that’s mostly phone calls would be a challenge with an entire cast. But magically, the 40 characters are played by IRNE and Elliot Norton award-winning actor Gabriel Kuttner, who doesn’t have the luxury of a costume change as the rapid-fire back and forth takes him from straight man to buffoon to straight man again.

Even though only one person is ever on stage, and he’s mostly sitting, it doesn’t have the feeling of a one-man show. It’s more like a human being puppet show where after a while it seems to all be real. Through distinctive voices and mannerisms, Kuttner brings to life these characters in a way that is recognizable and the audience never loses the thread of what’s going on, even when six things are happening all at once, including VIP restaurant reviewer Zagat showing up. Sam even gets a chance to be on hold making a reservation of his own, with the ultimate Christmas question hanging over him: Will he be able to book his own time to spend with his family?

Even without Kuttner’s performance, I could not recommend ‘Fully Committed’ more highly. The comedy won the Outer Critics Circle Award and was one of Time Magazine’s Top 10 Plays of 2000. Its dialogue is clever and it’s full of interesting twists that keep you on the edge of your seat. With Kuttner, it’s a must-see. Somehow he keeps tremendous energy through a two hour marathon, with hardly a break, and the instant switches of accents will leave you as awed as if watching a magic show. Trust me, if you like my website, you will be kicking yourself if you miss this.

Perhaps more importantly, Kuttner lends plenty of humor without pushing the characters into cartoons. For example, he doesn’t overplay the pathos of Sam, the main character, or the bullying of the head chef. This allows the audience to care more about the characters and to connect a human level. It makes you feel that if one actor can transform himself so many times — and the character Sam goes through a life-affirming transformation himself — perhaps we can all hope to be capable of our own changes. What a nice thought as we celebrate the holiday and consider our new year resolutions.

For more information, see The play is accessible even if you aren’t a “theatre type” and it has a bit of comical swearing that your older kids won’t mind at all.