Sitting in the comfort of my Airbnb isolation pad in South Western Ontario, I found myself literally thrown back, most appreciatively, mind you, to those hectic first few years I had in NYC when I had the fortune (or misfortune – how ever you want to look at it) of working as a Maître D’ at two very cool downtown Manhattan restaurants. It was a blast in a way, like throwing your own party every single night, but also somewhat traumatic. I still have restaurant nightmares to this day over those wild rides when phones ring forever and lines and lines of people thousands deep form endlessly in front of you demanding impossible feats of magic from you, and there are no tables left to be seated. Those anxiety dreams flood our night-time senses in our deep sleep, flinging us back to those stress-filled evenings when high-maintenance patrons, chefs, and owners go out of their way to make our lives miserable. That is, as we work so very hard and steadily to keep a smile on our face and a lightness in our voice – those who have worked in the service industry know exactly what I’m talking about.
Imbedded deep in those first few minutes of George Street Playhouse‘s well produced and executed Fully Committed, the hit comedy written most authentically by Becky Mode (Netflix’s “Unbelievable“), I found myself falling quickly into a pseudo-PTSD state of anxiety and stress, much like those old restaurant nightmares can elicit within. But as directed by David Saint (Primary Stages’ The Fourth Wall), the production quickly recentered my inner tense self, flourishing into something emotionally pure and humane, mainly because of the undeniable star-power and appeal of Maulik Pancholy (2ST’s Grand Horizons), an actor, author and activist best known for his roles on 30 Rock and hit series, Weeds. Through his vivid transformational whirlwind of a performance, the panic within me somehow quickly passed as his raised its ugly hand, and I could settle myself down for the high end duration. “Oh good, so you do have chicken.“
“Sam, what’s the matter?” The hilarious one-act one-person piece finds art in its descent most charismatically down the stairs into a manic cellar mode of hysterical wonder. With numerous phones and intercom buzzers sizzling and slicing the air in urgent panic, Pancholy finds a way, most artistically, of creating dynamic alternative personalities in a blink of the eye. he crafts over thirty of these diverse characters, magnificently, all down in the basement of a celebrity-fueled NYC restaurant – much like the one I worked at almost twenty-five years ago. He twists and turns himself inside out and almost upside down, finding humor and sentiment with ease inside every call answered, but it is in the centered core of Sam, the out-of-work actor trying to survive the afternoon, that his true authenticity and heart registers. Pancholy portrays simply and only the second-in-command to an absent reservation manager in that basement, but he is most definitely the number one in this crafty tasty piece. It is in what he artfully brings to the part, especially in those fatherly moments, that take the piece forward into something meaningful, engaging, and most definitely, three-star Michelin territory.
“This is unbelievable!” The phone never stops ringing in Fully Committed, with outrageous requests for elaborate menu readings, Gwyneth Paltrow dietary demands, and the procuring of a number of impossible reservations from a wide spectrum of demanding dilettantes in a restaurant that is Fully Committed for weeks and weeks in advance. Pancholy almost wraps himself up in wires creating all these memorable, instantly-unique portrayals that ricochet off the walls with wild and fun abandonment. It’s a master class of rapid engagement and precision, but it is in that mania of coercion, power, non-stop harassment, and bribery that the shit really hits the fan, or should I say, the bathroom floor, and it is there when the tables truly get turned. It finally all comes down to the number two guy to clean it all up, and Pancholy’s Sam majestically takes care of all those pesky overly demanding patrons, and – most satisfyingly of all – that ego-inflated pompous chef with aplomb and determination, all while getting that call back on track. And if you’re wondering, can the wonderful #2 handle all of this crap thrown at him? Well, you obviously don’t know the power of Pancholy, or just how utterly fantastic he truly is.
Tickets are available for $33 per household at GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org. The virtual production will be available to stream through April 11th.
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