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December 14, 2004

Fully Committed - Becky Mode

Posted by Kenneth Minogue

Fully Committed
Directed & Performed by Mark Setlock
at The Arts Theatre, London

Live theatre comes in all shapes and sizes these days, and a theatre that can fill its seat with a one-man show has it made. That's the happy condition of the Arts Theatre, which has brought over from Broadway Becky Mode's one-man one-act play called Fully Committed. "Sam" is an actor keeping the bread between his lips by moonlighting on the telephones for a high class restaurant in New York. He is camp, which gives Mark Setlock plenty of scope for a dazzling range of mannerisms, and he is deeply unconfident, so that his telephone politeness counterpoints the rage and frustrations he feels at the outrageous demands of the clientele, not to mention the droning voice of his father wanting him to come home for Christmas. At one point his rage is such that he sticks a pencil into the electric sharpener and then presses the point down on a rubber figure on his desk. We in the audience have no trouble with the convention that it is "Sam" when he is speaking into the mouthpiece, and the interlocutor when he draws back from it. Setlock is equally good at men and women. The head chef is a temperamental egomaniac who nearly drives "Sam" to distraction; he has his own separate line, and expects instant attention.

A comedy sketch lasting an hour and twenty minutes, then? Yes, in a way, though the lines are not particularly funny, and the amusement is rather more in the clichéd grotesques seeking tables, and the virtuosity of voice and expression exhibited by Setlock than in clever lines. As with all such seemingly fragmented performances, a world is created and a kind of plot emerges. A colleague who has invented a story to cover the fact that he is going for a job interview that morning, a set of needy celebrities demanding tables of a size and at a time that can't be done because the restaurant is "fully committed". The phrase is something Sam has to learn to say: the vocabulary is part of the pretensions of the institution. "Sam" himself is trying to get a part in a show at the Lincoln Center, and after a morning in which his amour propre has been battered and left for dead, he opens a packet with a notable tip for insinuating a client into the restaurant, and it turns out that he will get the audition he craves. So, out of the miseries, a happy ending.

A full house cheered it to the echo. I, who yearn for other players and preferably a few dancing girls, found it a bit thin. I would have settled for some proposition about the human condition, but this was the comedy, or perhaps farce, of gritty realism. But there's no doubt that it was an astonishing performance, and that Mark Setlock deserved all the applause he got.

Kenneth Minogue is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, London School of Economics.


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