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Commitment to Comedy 

Every week, we read about some new dietary rule to increase our life expectancy. Eat more this, eat less that, etc. The catch is that last week's panacea is this week's poison. The only two surefire aids to long life appear to be pets and laughter. Some people, unfortunately, are allergic to pets. No one is allergic to laughter.

Since scientists have not calculated the exact benefits of a giggle, a chuckle or a guffaw, I can't be sure how many minutes, weeks or years I added to my days on earth by watching Sean Patterson as the harassed but irrepressible Sam Peliczowski in Fully Committed. But I can say it was the largest, headiest and most enjoyable dose of longevity I've had in a quite while.

Fully Committed is a one-man show. Furthermore, it takes place entirely within the confines of a sordid little windowless basement room. And nothing happens but phone calls. And yet, it's the least claustrophobic of plays. It's sort of a one-man Greater Tuna, that depicts the very opposite end of the social fabric; instead of rural Texas, we are in the chic-est of chic Manhattan. Or rather, the tawdry underbelly of chic Manhattan -- on the other side of the looking glass, as it were.

Sam Peliczowski is an out-of-work actor, whose day job is taking reservations for an upscale eatery. Our first few minutes with him are just a touch confusing -- for we are plopped directly into a wacky artifice that proves to be a source of great delight. "Reservations, could you hold please,?" says Sam, talking into his miniaturized headset phone. Then, instantly, he switches into the person on the other end of the line: voice, gestures, body language -- a brief, but unmistakable snapshot. Sam engages his interlocutor in a rapid-fire conversation. As the play progresses, this quick-change act (minus the costumes) becomes increasingly complex. And increasingly hilarious.

Words like "bravura" and "tour de force" are unavoidable when describing Patterson's performance in this dizzy panoply of roles. I employ the terms reluctantly because, while they do justice to the artistry involved, they do not suggest the fun. For Patterson not only gives accurate thumbnail portraits of a long series of amusing types, but he creates a wonderful, Chaplinesque comic hero, fighting desperately to do the right thing under impossible pressures. Sam has a tinge of sad sack, but it is the sad sack in all of us, when our luck is down -- and he has a gutsy side as well, a tonic reserve of gumption that keeps his character likable rather than pathetic.

And the fates really do seem to be amusing themselves at Sam's expense on this particular day. Bob, his coworker and immediate supervisor, calls in, claiming to be stuck on the Long Island Expressway. Another coworker can't come in because her father has come down with Lyme Disease. Jean-Claude, the snippy French maitre d', is less than helpful. The chef-owner is fixated on celebrity customers, the broken global-positioning unit in his Ferrari and the helicopter that's supposed to take him to the airport. In addition, he insists on snubbing the photographer from Gourmet magazine who's been waiting for eight hours in the lounge because he's angry at the critic. ("Maybe she shoulda thought o' dat before she wrote dat shit about my bouillabaisse!").

Meanwhile, Tim Zaggat, a V.V.V.I.P., has arrived only to find his reservations got misplaced. Brice, from Naomi Campbell's office, needs a table for 15, with no female wait staff, and he wants to change the bulbs in the wall sconces to a lower wattage. There are many others from these ethereal regions of fame and fortune with their quick tempers, self-importance and endless demands.

Meanwhile, Sam has to try and deal with his personal life. Like his dear old dad from the Midwest who thoughtfully sent on a clipping about a hometown boy, several years younger than Sam, who's just landed a part on Ally McBeal. Or his agent's secretary (a Puerto Rican queen) who offers devastating criticism about Sam's audition technique. ("D'jou are talented, Sam, but d'jou convey a lack of entitlement.")

To call Fully Committed a one-man show is not quite accurate. Director Carl Walker deserves a big bouquet of roses, along with his star. The set by Constantinos Kritikos manages to be convincing, detailed and perfectly adapted to Le Chat Noir's little stage. And, of course, Becky Mode's script brims with wit and humanity.

I don't know whether this is comic theater at its best or cabaret at its best. Either way, you don't want to miss it.

click to enlarge Sean Patterson lends a Chaplinesque sensibility to his thumbnail portraits of a series of characters in Fully Committed at Le Chat Noir. -
  • Sean Patterson lends a Chaplinesque sensibility to his thumbnail portraits of a series of characters in Fully Committed at Le Chat Noir.

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