In 2017, Will Bonfiglio won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for outstanding actor in a comedy for his performance in “Buyer and Cellar,” a one-man show at Stray Dog. He portrayed an unemployed actor who goes to work in Barbra Streisand’s private “shoppes” in the basement of her mansion, as well as many other people in the actor’s life, including the fabulously self-indulgent singer.
Now Bonfiglio is starring in New Jewish Theatre’s production of “Fully Committed,” a one-man show about Sam, an unemployed actor who mans the phones at an insanely fashionable New York restaurant.
This place is so hot, you need to make a reservation three months in advance. But Sam’s not allowed to say they’re booked solid. Instead, the egotistical celebrity chef wants him to say that they’re “fully committed.”
Bonfiglio plays Sam and about 40 people on the other end of the calls he answers in the restaurant’s dilapidated basement. There’s the self-centered chef, the nervous Frenchman who runs the kitchen and the chic British hostess perpetually at her wit’s end. We hear from Sam’s recently widowed father, from his jealous theatrical frenemy, from his less-than-helpful agent.
And of course, there are the many, many demanding characters who want to make reservations and who will try anything from bribery to threats to obtain them.
Relying on nothing but his supple voice and sharp, distinctive gestures, Bonfiglio makes each caller into a character, or at least a caricature, we easily recognize each time he or she returns. Yes, they call back. One woman, a raspy New Yorker with four names, promises that she can stay on hold ALL DAY if necessary. Do not doubt that she means it.
Playwright Becky Mode has whipped up an actor’s dream role, comic and quick and a little bit touching, too. In the hands of Bonfiglio and director Ellie Schwetye, this intermission-free play flies by, full of laughter and genuine sympathy for our hero, a likable guy who deserves better than he usually gets.
With his generous performance, Bonfiglio makes us feel for all the people who hold down bad jobs, dreaming of something better. When he was in college, Sam probably played Hamlet. Happily, playwright Mode remembers, with the author of “King Lear,” that “the worst returns to laughter.” She and Bonfiglio conspire to send us from the theater with a smile and even a little song.
Here’s the odd thing, though: “Fully Committed” has virtually no Jewish content. If you study scenic designer David Blake’s wonderful set, a masterpiece of hoarding and decay, you’ll spot a small menorah amid the Christmas decorations. Also, Mode is Jewish. So, if some of the callers (including Mrs. Four-Names) seem to be stereotypes, we can consider that more of an observation than an insult.
Edward Coffield, the relatively new artistic director of NJT, has said that he hopes to expand the range of plays that the company presents. What will that mean in the long run? It’s much too early to guess.
But considering the variety of amazingly bad jobs that unemployed actors take to make ends meet, there could be plenty of plays like “Fully Committed” in the offing. NJT could do a lot worse than to stage them with so versatile and engaging a performer as Will Bonfiglio.