Book 'Em

Bob Sorenson takes reservations, but no prisoners, at ATC.

There's no question about it: Bob Sorenson is a fabulous, flawless comic wonder in Arizona Theatre Company's Fully Committed. There is a question, though, about the show itself: Is it a real play, or just a hilarious stunt?

Becky Mode's off-Broadway hit Fully Committed follows Sam, who books reservations at a hot, haute Upper East Side restaurant, through one increasingly demoralizing day. Alone in a depressing basement office, Sam contends with calls from antediluvian socialites, pompous would-be VIPs unwilling to wait three months for a weekend table, a supermodel's factotum worried about unflattering lighting, timid Midwesterners inquiring about the "global fusion" menu (appetizers include marinated fluke and terrine of headcheese), and the restaurant's own high-strung staff.

It could require a cast of 40, but the gimmick here is that all the characters are played by a single actor. Bob Sorenson is that virtuosic quick-change artist who never dons a different garment. He whiplashes from Sam to other characters without taking a breath, merely altering his voice and demeanor from one line to the next.

Sorenson and director David Ira Goldstein have assigned a signature stance or gesture to each caller, too: an exuberant hand-wag, a simian slump, an extended arm, a catalog of yoga and tai chi positions. Some people may regard this as a cheap method of defining a character, but it's a fine way for the audience to identify the repeat characters instantly--and there's no time for confusion in this fast-paced frolic.

Sam is holding down the reservation desk alone; his two co-workers don't show up, and that's just the first awful thing he must face. Wealthy, haughty, self-important twits are attracted to this restaurant like Frenchmen to foie gras. They all want a seat now, preferably at table 31.

Meanwhile, Sam must contend with his self-centered colleagues upstairs, both in the kitchen and in the front of the house, including an insufferable maître-d' and the hot-burning celebrity chef around whom the restaurant revolves.

And then there are the calls from his widowed father, urging him to come home for Christmas, and his preening friend Jerry. This last fellow is, like Sam, a struggling actor who makes it clear that he's struggling far less than Sam.

Sorenson delineates all these characters splendidly. Not surprisingly, he's best with the people who make the most frequent "appearances," especially the chef--arrogant, demanding, fundamentally insecure.

Compared to all the colorful figures shouting over the phone and intercom, Sam himself necessarily seems a little bland, a flat surface for the other characters to bounce off of.

Sam is where the title really comes in. "Fully committed" is the restaurant's lingo for being completely booked up, which is what Sam must tell one caller after another. The term can also be applied to Sam, but only in certain ways. He definitely has his hands full at the reservation desk, with barely enough time for a gulp of bottled water. But as a would-be actor, Sam has plenty of open space on his calendar. Is he really fully committed as an actor? Someone at his agent's office suspects not. Is he fully committed as a son? He capitulates all too easily to the chef's demand that he work on Christmas rather than visit his father.

So we have a central character facing a few well-defined conflicts, following a story arc that brings him to a crisis and then gives him a chance to resolve some of his problems. Yes, that counts as a play rather than just a stunt. Still, as theatrical experiences go, this is no five-course meal. It's a confection--thanks to Sorenson, one of those flaming desserts more captivating in the presentation than in the tasting.

Fully Committed is basically an 80-minute extension of the kind of skit Sid Caesar or Danny Kaye used to do on TV, and Sorenson brilliantly holds his own against those forebears. He's the Evel Knievel of comic actors, zooming over a seemingly endless line of funky vehicles. Except that Kneivel often crashed, and Sorenson never does--at least he didn't on Saturday night.

Now, doing Fully Committed is not like jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle. For that, Sorenson would have to try a one-man Hamlet. Still, this is a big challenge to an actor, while not a challenge at all to an audience, and if there were a Mobil guide to regional actors, Sorenson would rate five stars.

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