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Southern Exposures

Theater Review: Fully Committed


Published July 16, 2003 at 4:00 a.m.

The Bryant House Pub in Weston is not the kind of restaurant where you'd expect to see an overworked reservationist fielding frantic calls from Naomi Campbell's assistant. The sedate environs of the Weston Playhouse seem an unlikely spot to run into the cast of "The Jeffersons." And Manchester doesn't automatically leap to mind as a prime location for face-to-face encounters with the likes of Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer.

But sure enough, thanks to the Weston Playhouse and the Southern Vermont Arts Center, the region to the south of Rutland is currently a hotbed of frenzied fabulousness. And the best part: You don't have to live with all that glamour, but can retreat after a few hours to the simpler pleasures of a comfortable country inn. It's N.Y. and Hollywood all in one weekend -- without the jet lag.

What is the recipe for turning a cozy, wood-paneled bar into a restaurant so popular even the editor of the Zagat guides can't get a table? Start with a funny script by Becky Mode. Add smart direction by Steve Stettler, co-producing director of the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, which is presenting Fully Committed at Bryant House as part of its "Other Stages" series. Most important of all, mix in the talents of a prodigiously versatile actor, Samuel Lloyd, Jr., as Sam the reservationist -- and as every one of the 38 callers who harangue and cajole him during the course of one increasingly hectic shift.

Mode knows these people well. She and Mark Setlock, the original star of Fully Committed when it was a 2000 Off-Broadway hit, once worked the phones together at Bouley, a now defunct New York City restaurant. The script shares the name-dropping obsession of the milieu it's mocking, which means that there are plenty of New York-centric inside jokes, some of which seem a little dated. But that's a minor drawback. The play has become one of the most-produced on the regional circuit because a) the "hot" restaurant is not a phenomenon limited to New York; b) one-man shows are cheap cheap cheap; and c) it's a golden opportunity for an actor to strut his stuff.

Lloyd, who is the nephew of actor Christopher Lloyd, unquestionably has the stuff. But he doesn't strut. One of the great things about his performance is how easy it appears -- he slips into each character instantly and convincingly -- which of course means he's working his butt off. We just don't see the seams.

It's difficult to pick favorites from this parade of blighted humanity, but here are a few: the supermodel's assistant who keeps inflating the value of his thank-you's: "Thanks a trillion!" "Thanks a gazillion!"; Sam's obnoxious boss, known only as "Chef," who travels by Ferrari and helicopter and always sounds as if he's been angrily roused from a deep sleep; his gentle-voiced dad, who signs off his phone conversations with "Adios, amigo"; the hysterical housewife for whom nothing in life ever goes right. Lloyd even does a series of computerized voices, including the smarmy recording on the Village Voice personals line.

That Lloyd manages to hold our attention for 80 minutes when most of the time he's behind a bar talking on the phone is a feat in itself. It also means that when he moves out from behind the bar, the impact is that much greater -- particularly in a brilliantly staged moment when, heading out to do an onerous task for Chef, his unexpected exit reveals another layer of restaurant life.

Mode's bias sometimes shows; reservationists at terminally hip restaurants don't tend to be as polite as Sam. Or maybe that's Lloyd's everyman persona coming through (he looks a bit like James Taylor, in balding soulful songster mode). In any case, Sam's likeability makes it easy for us to identify with him, and it helps make the few somber mo-ments -- as when a friend expresses sympathy over his mother's death -- especially affecting.

And it's not as if Sam doesn't get to be a little nasty himself. He happily turns the tables on the egomaniac chef and a double-dealing co-worker, and his little triumphs are a treat to watch. As Mode demonstrates so clearly, the driving principle behind a "hot" restaurant is oneupsmanship. So it's nice to see our beleaguered hero win a few points now and then.

By the way, if you want to catch the production in this, its final week, call right away. With only 36 seats available each night, there's a good risk the show will be "fully committed" -- Chef's euphemism for "booked up the wazoo." And when you go, get a reservation at the Inn at Weston. It's close to Bryant House, the food's wonderful and the hospitality of innkeepers Bob and Linda Aldrich -- light years away from the angst and attitude satirized by Mode -- will remind you what good restaurants are really about.

Just down the road, Weston Playhouse occupies what must be the most picturesque theater site in America. Its white-columned portico faces the village green, with mountains and steeples in the distance. Its neighbors are an old, red sawmill and an austerely beautiful 1797 house museum. Directly behind the playhouse, visible from French doors at the rear of the theater's gracious lobby, is a rushing waterfall.

And this is where they're doing a tribute to "Flipper," "Maude" and "The Jeffersons?"

Yes, and it's hilarious. A trip down suppressed-memory lane, it's part of the Act IV Cabaret.

The cabaret is a longstanding late-night tradition at Weston. Presented in the theater's downstairs restaurant following the mainstage shows, the revues give the acting company a chance to cut loose in raucous, anything-goes sketches and songs.

Most of Saturday night's Act IV cast had just taken their curtain calls for the current mainstage production, Hello, Dolly!, so they were riding on a post-show high. Samuel Lloyd, Jr. was on hand, too, fresh from the performance we'd just seen at the pub.

"A Trip Around the World" was the theme, announced co-writer-director David Bonanno, and 20 or so actors spilled out onto the tiny stage shouting hello in multiple languages. A string of unabashedly cheesy "international" production numbers followed, such as a trio from south of the border singing about the tedium of doing the same old hip-swiveling dances all the time with lyrics that rhymed "Plaza de Toros" with "morose."

Then came a tribute to the international language: television. A medley of old TV-show theme songs recalled all those ditties you wish you could forget, from "Car 54, Where Are You?" to "We're Movin' On Up!" After intermission, in keeping with the current inexplicable pirate-flick trend, a pair of innocents drolly embarked on a treasure hunt that led them to pirates and eyepatches and more production numbers. It was all very silly, and a whole lot of fun.


"Hollywood Celebrity: Edward Steichen's

Vanity Fair Portraits" and "Scavullo Photographs: Fifty Years," Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum, Southern Vermont

Arts Center, Manchester. Through September 3.


"Lauren Hutton, 1973" by Francesco Scavullo

Glitz of a higher order decks the walls at the Southern Vermont Arts Center. "Hollywood Celebrity: Edward Steichen's Vanity Fair Portraits" and "Scavullo Photographs: Fifty Years" bear little relation to reality as we know it, but that's what makes these pictures so fascinating.

Celebrity portraits have changed since the period when Steichen was shooting for Vanity Fair and Vogue in the 1920s and '30s. He was a pioneer, but even his most candid shots were calculated to maintain the untouchable iconic status of the stars he photographed, rather than to show us the "real" person underneath. "He magnified the illusion of celebrity to often mythic proportions," writes Therese Mulligan of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, which organized the exhibition.

There's the famous photo of Garbo staring into the camera, her head between her hands; Steichen took the shot at the moment when she pulled her Hollywood 'do away from her face, at which point he wrote, "the woman came out." Perhaps so, but a woman so gorgeously made up and lit as to appear utterly goddess-like. Steichen was not shooting stars so much as stardom: Gloria Swanson behind a veil, John Barrymore in perfect profile -- these are unforgettable images, but also impenetrable ones.

The photos of Francesco Scavullo, who made his biggest splash in the 1970s and '80s, seem by contrast startlingly candid. He celebrated the artificiality of glamour, too, but in his photos we see the cracks in the makeup, whether he's shooting drag queens or Hollywood divas. Reflecting his era, he created some images that are extraordinary only in their vacuity; a 1979 portrait of Streisand and Summer, all curly hair and blank stares, is a case in point. But even more striking are his portraits of artists like Edward Albee, Louise Nevelson and the Wyeths; these photos bristle with as much intelligence as did their subjects.

Both shows have been mounted in the pristine, white Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum, Hugh Newell Jacobsen's gorgeously spare tribute to Vermont vernacular architecture. Like the shows in Weston, the photographs create an interesting tension: Show-biz razzle-dazzle against a background of New England calm.

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