by Margie Eades
June 14, 2012 – September 2, 2012
at ZACH Theatre’s Whisenhunt Stage
written by Becky Mode
directed by Dave Steakley
starring Martin Burke
One man, three desks, and forty-one characters could either be the ingredients for a long and confusing night at the theater, or for an entertaining hour and a half of the most unique theater experience you might ever have.
Perhaps as someone who was raised more on Russian ballet than comic theater, I am being overly enthusiastic, but I enjoyed every minute of Becky Mode’s Fully Committed which opened this weekend at the ZACH Theatre. The comedy features Martin Burke as the reservationist (and the Maître d’, and the chef, and the hostess, and all the guests trying to make reservations) for a trendy Manhattan restaurant who, like the rest of us, is just trying to do his job well and make it home alive at the end of the day. Yet there is more to the show than a series of funny impressions poking fun at the status driven socialites of New York. At its heart is Sam, a struggling actor trying to “make it big”, make rent, and make it home to see his widowed father for Christmas. While every character played by Burke is entertaining in his or her own right, the underlying plot is what takes Fully Committed from being any comedian’s nightly act to an engrossing story that the audience can connect with.
One of the things that makes this performance so special is the intimate Whisenthunt Stage – one of the ZACH’s two stages, with another addition of the new Topfer Theatre opening in September . Small but comfortable, the Whisenhunt Stage is an octagonal “theatre-in-the-round” that makes you feel as if you are right in the office with Sam, even if you are sitting on the last row. This atmosphere allows more interaction between the audience and the actors – or actor in this case – which makes the experience more personal and enjoyable for both parties. During the performance it was obvious that Burke was thoroughly enjoying himself, feeding off of the audience’s laughter and even cracking himself up; the audience in turn was fully involved in every word, every inflection, every grimace and smirk of the performance.
Then again, how could we not have been totally engrossed in the play? Burke is handsome; he could make you fall in love with his twinkling blue eyes in an instant if he weren’t so busy running around the office answering phones! From the moment he rushed on stage, he was energetic and enthusiastic – so much so that he was sweating after only half an hour.
— “Sorry sir, we’re fully committed on that day”
— “Yer full o’ WHAT?!”
–“Uh, we don’t have any tables sir..”
From the restaurant’s fabulous French Maître d’ Jean-Claude:
–“Oh. My. God. She has a face like zee catfish.”,
to Naomi Campbell’s gay secretary Bryce:
–“You betcha I’ll hold!”
and other celebrities and wannabes in between, Burke is delightful and fascinating in his ability to switch between so many characters and not end up with some sort of identity crisis.
The script leaves room for improvisation and name-dropping. Such an instance pokes fun with a VIP reservation for Mort Topfer – “who the **** is that?!” -whose family the newest theatre at ZACH is named after. Burke takes advantage of these opportunities to subtly and cleverly engage his audience with Austin related references. There are way too many characters to go on in detail; you simply have to see the performance yourself to enjoy its full hilarity.
A native of Austin, Burke has participated in dozens of local productions. He is most notorious for playing a Macy’s Christmas elf in the David Sedaris’ holiday favorite, The Santaland Diaries. Burke’s outstanding work has been recognized with numerous B. Iden Payne Awards, including one for “Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play” in Twelfth Night, directed by Robert Faires (Sneck Up! Productions, in association with VORTEX Repertory Company). Both The B. Iden Payne Council and VORTEX have participated in Austin Creative Alliance’s Sponsored Project program.
On Saturday as the lights were being dimmed, I counted only 4 empty seats in the entire theater. At the same time, I could not help but notice that less than a handful of the audience was under the age of thirty. A shame considering that my guest for the evening, my best friend’s 18 year old little sister and mass consumer of all things funny on Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, and any other popular or obscure website, absolutely loved the entire theater experience and found Fully Committed’s shenanigans and sentiments endearing.
My friend will be a sophomore at UT in the fall and has been wanting to do “more interesting artsy cultural activities”. Last Wednesday we attended the City Hall Council Meeting together to learn about the Imagine Austin Plan, for example. It is my hope, as a young adult who has grown up loving the arts, that producers andsupporters of the arts in Austin would continue to strive to reach out to young people like my friend and help them realize that the arts are for people of all ages. If you need some incentive, ZACH offers discounted tickets for students an hour before every performance!
Check out some of ZACH’s upcoming events below:
May 29, 2012 – July 1, 2012
July 17, 2012 – September 2, 2012
June 14, 2012 – September 2, 2012
TOPFER THEATRE OPENING WEEKEND
ONCE UPON A DREAM
Thursday, September 27th, 2012 Featuring: JOHNNY MATHIS
ONCE UPON A DREAM will be a spectacular black-tie gala, which will showcase ZACH’s new Topfer Theatre in its greatest light. A cocktail reception in the theatre will be followed by a seated dinner on the People’s Plaza under a stunning custom tent. Then, Johnny Mathis himself will christen the Karen Kuykendall stage with an once-in-a-lifetime concert featuring his iconic songs. Tickets on sale soon!
DEEP IN THE HEART OF ZACH
Saturday, September 29th, 2012 Featuring: BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL, Broadway star of RAGTIME and Tony Award winner for KISS ME KATE, who will be joined at the end of his concert by ZACH performers in a rousing review that will include a special sneak peek at RAGTIME!
The Topfer Theatre and the entire ZACH campus will be ‘party central’ for our DEEP IN THE HEART OF ZACH! opening gala event. Besides concerts by Broadway headliner Mitchell, shows in ZACH’s other venues will take place concurrently all evening.
ZACH’s talented artists will be featured on the Kleberg and Whisenhunt stages, while area bands perform on the Plaza. VIP guests can attend Mitchell’s first or second concert in the Topfer, then be free to partake in all the remaining festivities, and conclude with an exclusive post-concert reception. All attendees will enjoy the opening ceremonies, food, drink, bands and ZACH performances. This progressive party will offer Austin’s choicest food vendors in a variety of food stations throughout ZACH’s campus.
Tickets on sale soon! Be on the lookout for an email from ZACH announcing more event details.