the arts

Fully Committed

The title may describe Martin Burke's performance, but is the play worthy of his talents?

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., July 13, 2012

Hold the line: Martin Burke
Hold the line: Martin Burke
Photo courtesy of Kirk R. Tuck

Fully Committed

Zach Theatre Whisenhunt Stage, 1510 Toomey, 476-0541
Through Aug. 26
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

It's not Martin Burke's fault. The play Fully Committed, I mean. There are an awful lot of things wrong with Zach Theatre's production of Fully Committed, but solo performer Martin Burke is not one of them. He is an engaging, energetic, and hardworking actor who plays Sam, the frenetic and frenzied restaurant reservations manager. He also plays 39 other characters in the play, representing an egomaniac chef, a series of entitled customers, a staff of idiosyncratic restaurant employees, and more.

The play skewers (if you will) the world of New York haute cuisine. Prospective diners call and call again, insisting that it really must be possible for them to get a table at 7pm that night at a restaurant which books two months in advance. The multiple phones and intercom ring and chime constantly through the entire show, keeping Sam – a semi-employed actor in his other life – constantly on his toes.

As presented here, the play's primary issue is that none of the characters are very likeable. Under the direction of Zach Theatre Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley, few characters rise above the level of stereotype. Jean-Claude, the presumably French maître d'hôtel, employs the same hanky-waving gesture of panic before nearly every single line, and in theatre, repetition is a seasoning best used sparingly. Even poor, martyred Sam fails to earn much sympathy. There are all kinds of survival jobs a working actor can find in New York City that don't cause a man to approach an apoplectic state as a matter of routine. It's never clear why Sam stays in this job. His arc, and the arcs of the other characters here, are flimsy at best.

Mainly, the play is a vehicle for two things: easy laughs and showcasing Burke in something other than The Santaland Diaries, the one-man show that he has reliably performed at Zach during the holidays for several years. I don't take issue with easy laughs, but in this show they become both repetitive and predictable. And it's not so much that a play needs a message to earn critical approval; it's that it needs a little structure and wit in addition to the energy which Burke abundantly supplies.

Ultimately, the production comes across as an affordable way for a professional theatre company to bring in some summertime ticket-based income: solo actor, single set, few design requirements. You can't fault a nonprofit arts company for doing what needs to be done to earn its bread and butter; however I question whether Fully Committed is really a play worthy of Burke's energies or of Austin audiences' attention.


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