Through Jan. 8
1201 North Royal St.
MetroStage ends a yuletide tradition this year. Instead of reprising their usual “A Broadway Christmas Carol,” the Alexandria company is happily presenting the first regional production of playwright Becky Mode’s “Fully Committed,” a fast-paced comedy starring local out favorite Tom Story in 40 parts.
In this comedic tour de force, Story plays Sam, a struggling actor who pays the bills by taking reservations for one of New York City’s trendiest restaurants. Tucked away in the establishment’s cluttered basement office (designed by Rhe’a Roland), Sam spends his days manning four lines mostly fending off relentless callers — all played by Story — desperately seeking a prized seat in the city’s latest gastronomical hot spot. Since the restaurant is completely booked (fully committed) for months in advance, most hopefuls are turned down but some exceptions are made for the right VIPs.
The title is apt. It certainly describes Story’s approach to playing 40 wide-ranging characters in a swift 80 minutes. He mostly plays Sam, and about 10 other recurring callers including both old and new money wannabe diners, Gwyneth Paltrow’s annoying personal assistant, and Sam’s co-workers and bosses. Then there are about 30 other one-time callers with myriad questions and demands.
Those phone calls come fast and furious. Dressed casually in in a rag wool cardigan and blue plaid shirt, Story moves in out of different characters at the ring of a bell. His power of concentration is formidable. And he has some fun with accents: lock jawed lady, Long Island dude, French chef, flat mid-western neighbor, and a young person of indeterminate gender whose declarative clauses all end with a rising-pitch intonation, what used to be known as Valley Girl Speak.
Story and out director Alan Paul, who is on loan from Shakespeare Theatre Company where he serves as associate artistic director, have worked together in the past and have clearly developed a swell rapport that’s memorably demonstrated here. They first met in 2008 when Story appeared in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “Twelfth Night,” A more recent collaboration was the Paul-directed “Silence! The Musical!” (a zany takeoff on the film “The Silence of the Lambs”) at Studio Theatre in which Story hilariously played creepy serial killer Buffalo Bill.
In July, “Fully Committed” ended a successful Broadway run starring the well-reviewed Jesse Tyler Ferguson (from TV’s “Modern Family”). MetroStage’s production is the same timely, revised Broadway version. And while Story’s commendable talents are shown to their advantage in the company’s intimate space, the play at one point begins to feel like a one note joke about ridiculously fashionable foodies eager to pay sky-high prices for over-the-top dishes like “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.”
But things get interesting again when calls come in from Sam’s competitive actor pal and his Midwestern family, giving insight into the reservationist’s personal life. After a recent audition, he’s up for a good part, and Sam isn’t above trading a table for the opportunity to advance his stagnant acting career. His boyfriend has moved out and his mother recently died, so Sam is particularly eager to get a little time off to be with his father during Christmas.
Will he get the part? Will he be home for the holidays? Suddenly these questions become more compelling than who gets a table.