Dialed in 

Fatz answers the call in Fully Committed

Before Justin Fatz takes the stage as the sole actor in Montana Rep Missoula's Fully Committed, director David Mills-Low appears under a spotlight and introduces Fatz like he's a heavyweight champion fighter entering the ring. The intentionally over-the-top preamble—complete with Rocky music—is mostly due to necessity, helping to move Fatz from the Crystal Theatre's backstage area to the stage on the other side of the room before the show begins. But it also sends an important message to the audience: You are about to watch a fight, an actual physical and mental challenge, not a typical performance.

In other words, Fatz doesn't act in Fully Committed as much as he competes against Becky Mode's daunting script. Mode's play, which first debuted in New York City in 1999, challenges Fatz to perform 40 different characters in roughly 60 minutes. His primary character is Sam, an aspiring actor stuck answering the phones at a fancy Manhattan restaurant. We quickly learn the restaurant books reservations roughly three months in advance, and even the wealthiest VIPs have trouble pulling strings for a last-second table. (The title refers to the vogue way of saying the restaurant's completely booked; "I'm sorry, but we're fully committed this evening" is a recurring line.) Fatz must not only play the patient employee, but also voice every whack job on the other end of the phone, every entitled employee who buzzes him on the intercom and the particularly snobbish chef who calls him on a designated internal line.

Fatz has little to work with to pull off the stunt. On a table sits a laptop that charts the restaurant's seemingly infinite number of incoming lines; he pecks at it to answer every call and to retrieve each person he puts on hold. The intercom and special chef phone are positioned next to the laptop. Fatz wears an earpiece. And that's it. The rest is entirely up to Fatz.

He distinguishes the different characters with an array of accents—a Japanese businessman, a gay personal assistant, a sultry Southern tourist, etc.—and subtle body language. With the chef, Fatz maintains a rigid posture and puts on a smug grin. A crusty old cougar intent on nagging always has a cigarette held to her mouth. The juggling becomes especially impressive when Fatz bounces from call to call, from Sam to the person on the other line, again and again in rapid succession, like Robin Williams on a Red Bull binge. It's hard to figure how Fatz pulls it off.

click to enlarge Justin Fatz stars in Montana Rep Missoula’s one-man comedy, Fully Committed.
  • Justin Fatz stars in Montana Rep Missoula’s one-man comedy, Fully Committed.

In fact, it's hard to focus on anything but figuring out how Fatz pulls off the act. In many ways, Fully Committed comes across more like a magic trick than an actual play—one long, impressive trick performed by a master of alliteration. I ended up caring less about what Fatz pulled out of his hat, so to speak, than I did about seeing if he'd screw up. And he didn't. I would have liked to see certain sections slowed down just a bit, milked for a touch more character development, but Fatz always storms on. Aside from taking the occasional breath, he blazes through all 60 minutes without the slightest stumble or pause.

Such an impressive feat deserves praise, but at the end of the standing ovation there's not much to take away from the play itself. Is there a story within Fully Committed? Sure. We see a basic transformation of Sam as he wrestles with his place in the world, moving ever so slightly from being a meek pushover to someone sick of taking everyone else's crap. The pivotal moment even involves, quite literally, the aforementioned crap. Sam elicits pity, but his slow redemption is ultimately secondary to simply watching Fatz do his thing.

Fully Committed marks the third consecutive season Montana Rep Missoula has included a one-man show in its lineup—and this one is markedly different from the other two. In 2007, Andrew Rizzo carried Thom Pain, a brooding play about a troubled man who rents out a theater to reveal his darkest fears to a bunch of strangers. Last season kicked off with {Extinguish}, a sullen production in which writer/actor Ezra LeBank, like Fatz, churns through dozens of different characters. Fully Committed, meanwhile, sidesteps anything of consequence and instead focuses on pure comedy. It's light, fast and baldly funny. It's also a perfect platform for Fatz, a veteran of the Illustrious Virginia City Players who knows his way around a punch line.

The only thing that could derail Fully Committed would be Fatz falling short, and he never does. He deserves that glitzy ring announcer introduction and—pardon the easy pun—follows it with a convincing knockout performance.

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