Fully Committed – Alex Butt and Nick Curnow juggle their way to brilliance. (Sydney FF Theatre Review)
“I’ve been on hold for so long I forgot who I called.”
I was out with a group of friends recently, at a very fancy restaurant. One of my friends, a very polite, gentle refined sort of woman, has many different allergies, and despite calling ahead, for some reason the message hadn’t gotten through to the kitchen. After placing her order, she had to return it, not once, but twice via an eye rolling waiter who was less than generous with his facial gestures, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when her order arrived exactly as she requested on the third time. As we sat in silence staring at the dish, the waiter having left the table exasperated, my very lady-like friend said, “This has so been around the Chef’s balls.”
What she was referring to was the unspoken rule that if you push an attendant – of any sort – in the hospitality industry too far, you will find a breaking point where they will turn on you with glee. Suddenly the very person that wanted to give you the best they can offer abandons the loyalty and respect you think you’ve paid for, if you don’t show appreciation for the fact that they are a person, are very busy, and trying to do a job bigger than just making you happy.
Sam Peliczowski (a cleverly unisex name) is an out of work actor who runs the phones during the day at Manhattans number one restaurant. On the day we get to know him, he is perpetually harassed by his equally harassed co-workers, his lazy shift replacement, his egomaniacal boss, his agent, his friend that over-informs about his successes, socialites, self-important assistants, hangers-on, wannabees and demanding celebrities. Sam will be pushed to that breaking point, almost, but will he be able to turn the tidal wave of calls and personalities to his advantage?
Despite this witty premise, the plot is not the stand out device in American playwrite Becky Mode’s engrossing and hilarious play. Despite its forty different characters, many on stage at the same time, Fully Committed (here comes the punch line) is a one-man act designed to show off the talents of the Rachmaninoff of actors. Indeed, it is a play written specifically to detail an actors range, talent for accent, precision timing and comic grasp, but this is only the starting point. Alexander Butt has brought Fully Committed to the Sydney Fringe and placed in its lead (and in fact only) role, the enormously talented Nick Curnow. Nick is an actor sure, but he is also one of Sydney’s most sought after voice and accent coaches. Each of the forty roles he places with a frenetic accuracy has a different accent.
Its one of the most impressive feats of comic performance you are ever likely to see. Curnow is in full command of his challenge, and probably wore out several mirrors in his practise. Alex Butt gives him a lot of physical space to work with, as Curnow seamlessly moves from character to character, never missing a beat, and more miraculously, never confusing the audience as to who is talking and which story they are a part of. This is one of those intense pleasures when fine writing, talented direction and the perfect actor for the perfect role all come together to create a breathtaking magic moment. Fully Committed is fifty minutes long, and involves many characters, and yet each characters role is so well crafted by Curnow and Butt that we feel the weight of each persons personality and the excitement of each individual tragedy. Curnow races around the desk answering loud, imposing, dominating phones as he physically transforms into each of the personas he embodies. Speed, wit and comic timing are in perfect balance in a performance that almost can’t be improved upon.
Sometimes when a central conceit has a play designed around it, plot, narrative and style are sacrificed, but this isn’t the case with Fully Committed. We don’t just stare breathlessly at Curnow as he tapdances his roles spectacularly, we are gripped by the story as it delicately unfolds adding depth and warmth to our main character Sam. We don’t just like Sam and want him to win by the end, we adore him and see ourselves in his struggles. Butt and Curnow give us a man we connect with, and, dare I say it, want to be at times. It’s a very clever way of drawing us toward a character whose frantic comic bustling could create a distance. Sam isn’t just an everyman. He turns out to be a superman.
Fully Committed is only on for one more night at the New Theatre in Newtown, but it is a must see for your weekend agenda. You will laugh yourself silly as you stare wide-eyed at the perfectly executed acting gymnastics.