Restaurants have been the new theatre for a while now, with celebrity chefs as the equivalent of star directors conjuring up a performance not just on your plate but also amongst the kitchen and waiting staff who are the cast. The room itself like a stage set upon which the nightly drama is played out, in which the diners are the audience. The restaurant version of the front-of-house manager is the maitre d'; but where's the box office?
Just as most theatre bookings now take place via remote call centres, so your first point of call at a restaurant is probably the reservations phone line, hidden in some back office somewhere. And chances are that in either case you'll probably be speaking to someone very much like Sam, the struggling actor desperately waiting for the audition call back that will take him out of there, in Fully Committed, a virtuoso one-man show about the shadowy, unseen underworld of the person on potentially the lowest - but paradoxically most powerful - rung on the restaurant food chain.
It's Sam who stands between you and that sought-after 8pm reservation for Table 37 or 19 in a restaurant that specialises in "global fusion" cuisine, and where a meal may cost you between $100 and $200 a head. Even if you're Bunny VanderMeer and you're bringing Philip Johnson, "America's most important living architect" to dinner, you'll need to speak to Sam. And if the tables are already gone to other important guests - well, then you'll just have to insist on speaking to the chef himself, snapping at Sam: "You obviously don't have the authority to handle it yourself."
Meanwhile, Sam is also juggling the all-vegan dietary requirements of Naomi Campbell, who's bringing a party of 15 on Saturday, with her assistant Bryce, who's even got some ideas for softer lighting over the table. But then restaurant guide man Tim Zagat appears unannounced upstairs with his wife, there isn't a table for them, and all hell breaks loose..
As those characters suggest - just some of the 40+ real and fictional ones conjured so expertly here - this is a specifically New York milieu of celebrity (there are also name checks for the likes of Diane Sawyer, a morning TV show anchorwoman, and Bernard Gersten who runs Lincoln Center Theatre). But even if the world that Becky Mode's play reflects is a very tiny one indeed, it has a wider social reach as it cleverly demonstrates the hierarchies that exist even in a supposedly classless society.
And as played by actor Mark Setlock, who contributed to the characters created here based on his own experiences of being an actor working the phones of a New York restaurant and originated the role of Sam off-Broadway in 1999, there is such intensity, commitment and compassion to every one of his lightening sketches of each character that it takes the breath away.
Book now for Fully Committed. You don't want to have to beg, bribe or threaten the box office to be admitted when it's all sold out. And while you're at it, be sure to book a table for Danielle Tarento's terrific (and very reasonably priced) restaurant at the theatre, too.
- Mark Shenton