NEW YORK (AP) — You might very well think that decorum is positively dead on Broadway these days with phones chirping and bleating endlessly during the entire run of the one-man play "Fully Committed."
But stop, relax, take a breath — those ringing phones are only onstage.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson is playing Sam, an aspiring actor who pays the bills by being a reservations clerk at a snooty, upscale New York City restaurant that's flooded with calls from people hoping to get a table at this temple to molecular gastronomy.
The "Modern Family" star somehow juggles all these calls while also doing the bidding of the restaurant's ego-driven chef, business manager and imperious maître d'. The title comes from the chef's desire to turn the phrase "totally booked" into the more hopeful "totally committed."
There are some 40 people in the play and Ferguson voices all of them, from a mafia wiseguy to an imperious Bon Appetit magazine staffer, to an 86-year-old furniture maker to a Park Avenue socialite. He goes from stuffy French to surfer-guy cool in milliseconds.
The 90-minute show that opened Monday at the Lyceum Theatre is a triumph of voices and athleticism from Ferguson, who sweats up a storm running from his personal iPhone to the restaurant's in-house phone to the multiline phone system on his desk, lit up with impatient guests hoping to eat "nitro-frozen shaved foie gras enshrouded in a liquid chicken filled orb."
Playwright Becky Mode has updated her script to reflect the explosion in foodie snobbery since the play first premiered off-Broadway in 1999. In this version, Yelp and Open Table get mentions, Bell Atlantic is updated to Verizon and some of the previous ethnic stereotypes have been wisely cut.
One character welcomed back is Bryce, Gwyneth Paltrow's oozing personal assistant — he used to be Naomi Campbell's assistant in previous incarnations — who wants to make sure his boss' upcoming vegan tasting menu isn't ruined by legumes, rice, dairy, soy, foam or corn. And, might her table not be served by any women?
The amount of concentration required by Ferguson is impressive and director Jason Moore runs a tight ship. One stray ring or bobbled cue could set the whole thing off, but Ferguson runs through "Fully Committed" surefooted like an Olympian on an obstacle course.
The premise loses steam about halfway through, but that's when the playwright wisely turns to Sam's personal life, namely his trying to land an acting gig and his plans to visit his Midwest home for Christmas. Audiences in 1999 might have found the New York high-end dining scene to be bewildering but we've had decades to laugh at it. What it does to Sam's soul is more important.
But if this is a morality tale, the lessons learned in this basement office — Derek McLane did the sets, all exposed pipes and battered cabinets — are grim. The more put-upon the honest Sam becomes, the more he uses his leverage unfairly and employs blackmail to get his way.
Perhaps he's taking his agent's advice and just being more aggressive. That's only fair, seeing what his bosses are doing to our lowly phone clerk. But Ferguson has no choice but to go along: He's got to voice his own corruption.
Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits