Jesse Tyler Ferguson Juggles 40 Crazy Characters in one man show

Sophisticated, sarcastic spoof gives us a behind the scenes look at the restaurant biz

by Lori Simmons Zelenko

“You think you’re having a bad day? Meet Sam. He works the red-hot reservation line at one of New York’s trendiest restaurants, where the best food inspires the worst behavior.” So reads the synopsis for Fully Committed, the non-stop, unbelievably funny but sometimes slightly horrifying but yes, always ridiculously entertaining one man show with Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson that skewers the snob culture of the haute restaurant world. It’s no joke that, “coercion, petty threats, bribes, histrionics – desperate callers” all brought to life by Ferguson – show us that certain climbers will stop at nothing to land a prime reservation, or the right table.  

Barraged by “scheming socialites, name-dropping wannabes, fickle celebrities and egomaniacal bosses” as the synopsis says, how does this struggling actor save his own sanity?  

Juggling phones with the skill of a circus clown  – in truth, Sam is something of a ringmaster, holding beasts at bay as they paw and growl ready to pounce on any available reservations, Ferguson moves non-stop around the dungeon of the restaurant’s basement within a cavernous set, imprisoned by file cabinets, hemmed in and harried, Sam embodies 40 plus different characters including his most consistent tormentors the powers-that-be at the restaurant itself  – imperious on a good day, completely unreasonable on most, not to mention the pretentiously perky celebrity assistants, brittle, pretentious posers and just about every other caricature of a needy social-climbing fear-of-missing out New Yorker demanding a prime seat at the hottest spot in town.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson is certainly known for his role on the ABC hit comedy Modern Family but he’s a comic genius on stage where he began his career. Seeing him in Shakespeare in the Park in The Tempest last summer was a revelation, his comic timing was out of this world. Though Fully Committed, written by Becky Mode, originally opened Off Broadway fifteen years ago has a few bitter moments to juxtapose its outrageous hilarity, Ferguson as Sam makes light of conflicts and characters that would fell a lesser man – much less daunt a lesser actor.

The restaurant where Sam works is the pinnacle of molecular gastronomy. Indeed the pretentiousness of the dishes is reverential – “smoked cuttlefish risotto in a cloud of dry ice infused with pipe tobacco” or “nitro-frozen shaved foie gras enshrouded in a liquid chicken-filled orb.” And in between demands from an array of characters that would make most grown men cry – but yes, they do make this audience laugh – Sam takes calls from his family on his cell, struggling to get reception he finds the only place it works is on top of a pipe. 

Will he be stuck in this crazy cycle of demand over the Christmas Holidays? Is this job without respite – ever? Or is there salvation if he walks away and hangs up the phone? The frenzied pace feels authentic and Ferguson so brilliantly characterizes each personality there’s no question they’re distinctive in their madness. Fascinating. 

But there’s barely time to think about Sam – the juggler par excellence –  as Ferguson – proving himself a tremendously skilled actor – becomes one demanding character after another with barely a breath in between. When Sam does surface – trying to connect with his family, facing degradation from his bosses, abandoned by the co-worker who doesn’t show up to man the phones – it’s apparent he’s a good guy trying his best in an impossible situation, there’s a hint of anguish there just underneath the riotous laughter that comes with each masterful characterization, bringing a fresh dimension to what’s probably familiar (maybe even cringeworthy?) behavior to more than one in the audience.  

As reservation hounds dread to hear, Fully Committed means…“no apologies but no way we’re seating you tonight.” But fully committed also describes the depth and intensity of Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s performance, there no separation between the actor and the characters who through voice and gestures alone, appear and disappear as flawlessly as spices merge in an artfully composed sauce.  But what is amazing at the end of the show is to realize that through Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s wizardry all the myriad personalities that a top restauranteur has to cope with have flawlessly merged into one brilliant evening of theatre.

Running time is 90 minutes.

On Broadway only through July 31st, Fully Committed is at the Lyceum Theatre 149 W. 45th St.  212-239-6200  Tickets available through telecharge.com or fullycommittedbroadway.com  

Photos – Joan Marcus