Portland Center Stage, 1111 SW Broadway & Main, 274-6588, Tues-Wed, Sun 7 pm, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sat 10 pm, Sun 2 pm, Thurs 12 pm, through May 30, $16-51
Why are good one-person shows so much more gripping than anything else? Does our innate herd mentality prompt an attraction to a single entity storytelling ruler? Or do our brains, weakened by screens, prefer to focus on one actor in a theatrical setting, rather than many? Whatever the case, Mark Setlock's solo show Fully Committed is the most purely entertaining stage spectacle you will ever see in Portland, OR.
Not surprisingly, Setlock is an import. His show takes place in a New York City restaurant so renowned it hires people simply to man the phones and field reservation requests, which arrive at a dizzying pace, months in advance of the actual dinner date, from the most prominent celebrities in the world. Setlock plays Sam, the restaurant phone operator in question, who sits in the basement of the fancy restaurant, fielding an onslaught of calls from uppity patrons. Every word of dialogue in Fully Committed is spoken over the phone, with Setlock playing... everyone.
The image of Setlock transitioning back and forth between Sam and the annoying customer/family member/boss on the other end of the line, is initially jarring. But Setlock's impressional shifts are so sharp and smooth, the unorthodox style quickly grows commonplace. You forget a single person is portraying each of the perhaps 15 or more different characters, and start keeping an eye out for your favorite ones. Mine were Bryce, the awful, fake representative for Naomi Campbell; and Chef, Sam's egomaniacal boss who screams over a special red alert phone tapped directly into his office.
The script that unites these people by Becky Mode was written especially for Setlock and has the nuance of real experience. Sam is a struggling actor locked in a dead-end job, checks a personals account that gets no messages, and in between placing reservations, fields calls from his dad about Christmas dinner. A story unfolds and there is a light, happy ending that wraps everything up into an unrealistically tidy yet tremendously satisfying package. It's pure fun--a trait I've come to expect from one-person shows, even if I'm not really sure why. JUSTIN SANDERS