Is there anything Brian Mysliwy can’t do?
In “Fully Committed,” Becky Mode’s comedy, now on stage at Irish Classical Theatre, the actor does it all — 45 characters in 90 uninterrupted minutes. Mathematically speaking, that allows for a mere two minutes per character, which would be an absurd reduction of what’s really going on here. Mode’s play presents itself first as entertainment, a spinning carnival ride of breakneck speed and dizzying voices. It is certainly that, but it’s much more than that, too.
It takes an actor who cannot only maneuver Mode’s dense script, about a phone operator in the reservations department of a “ridiculously trendy” Manhattan restaurant, but who can do so with commanding effort and little breath. The actor’s demands are the same as his character’s – stay calm, but bust your butt, and smile. Committed is an understatement.
Sam Peliczowski works in the award-winning restaurant’s dingy basement. You can almost smell the wet cinder-block walls not seen in David Dwyer’s evocative set. His colleagues are the real caricatures: the egomaniacal, but sensitive chef with the Jersey accent; the passive-aggressive maître d’ with the French accent; the kitchen staff with the Mexican accent. And here’s Sam, the humble working actor, filling in for an absent and absent-minded supervisor, managing an onslaught of calls, each one more demanding than the last.
Mysliwy excels at these frantic, comedic tornadoes, the impossible love child of Robin Williams, Mark Rylance and Jim Carrey. But even that seems incomplete. He can be all things, and at all times if necessary, but his agility is most impressive. Comedy is said to be harder to play than drama, but alternating between the two, without a second’s rest, has got to be exponential. It is both exhausting and exhilarating to watch. If you’ve ever worked a busy food service, no matter the establishment, you know that adrenaline. This feels that sublime.
Mode provides a 360-degree commentary on restaurant life. It’s a tough business, and for this Manhattan destination, expectations run high. Every customer must feel like a VIP. Every dish must meet the chef’s approval. Every future problem must be anticipated, addressed and solved before someone complains.
These are service problems that we don’t necessarily encounter in Buffalo, though try to get a reservation at one of the city’s dozens of trendy new restaurants, and you might find yourself perplexed at the difficulty. (I don’t have enough column inches to get into parking.) These negotiations fluster easily; the customer is always right, right? Listening in on Sam’s calls, I thought about the many times I’ve taken my frustrations out on a customer-service representative before shifting my dissatisfaction to their employer and not them. My apology was always laden with guilt, too. Someone has to be wrong.
It’s a world that Sam does not immediately appreciate, but is willing to satisfy. It pays the bills, but also offers a healthy distraction from a delicate home life and flailing career — that is when those calls don’t flood the switchboard, too. Sam is too nice for these people, perhaps, maybe for the service industry; he’s waiting for a callback from Lincoln Center Theater, a world that might seem antithetical to this elite food factory.
But there are commonalities, too. To be commercially successful as a creative person, whether on the line or on the boards, takes thick skin, peak standards and bottomless stamina. Slowly, Sam realizes how one job can help the other. Over the course of the play, Sam appears to bloom.
Director Fortunato Pezzimenti paces Mysliwy with a smart balance of momentum and pause. Mysliwy is equally adept at these rhythms. It’s fun just watching him operate. Tom Makar’s sound design is a key player, too, with multiple phone lines, an intercom system and unforgiving speed. These details are what make a production sing, night in and night out. If it tastes this good, you can only imagine what went into such a fine, delicious feast.
4 stars (out of four)
What: “Fully Committed”
When: Through April 3 with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Irish Classical Theatre, 625 Main St.
Info: irishclassical.com, 853-4282