On this day, Bob calls in saying he’ll be late because he had a breakdown on the highway (“I’m lucky to be alive, I tell ‘ya!”) which is not quite true. Thus Sam is stuck with juggling multiple phone calls from customers, the members of the staff upstairs, and on his own special line, the chef, who has a voice like a Mafia hit man but is very sensitive about his orange roughy.
In the midst of chaos, Sam’s father, who sounds rather oddly like Jimmy Stewart, calls from back home in Indiana to remind his son that if he’s going to be able to come home for Christmas, the airfares will go up at the end of this very day. His brother who has a pregnant wife and sounds like he has a cob somewhere it doesn’t belong weighs in with the guilt because if Sam can’t make it, their recently widowed father will be alone. And then there are the customers!
This unnamed restaurant is a hot ticket, and they are booked (or in the chef’s preferred term, “fully committed”) on weekends for the current month and the next two months out, which is as far in advance as they take reservations. So, anyone trying to get a table for the rest of December, January or February unless they’re willing to eat after 10 p.m. or settle for a weeknight or lunch will be rejected. In theory. As we soon learn, much depends upon who you are, how much money you have, and most of all, how much clout. For example, the chef becomes absolutely livid when he learns there has been a mixup and Mr. and Mrs. Zagat (of the famous Zagat Guides) aren’t seated immediately because there is no record of their reservation, made by Bob.
Naomi Campbell’s assistant rings up repeatedly, requiring a table for 15, and countless other accommodations. A food writer’s assistant, then the writer herself call about a photographer for their magazine who has been sitting around since 8:30 a.m. waiting to take photographs for an article. A rich, demanding “Mrs. Carolann Rosenstein Fishburn” calls repeatedly, as does “Mrs. Sebag,” both hysterical and with outrageous requests, and they are just two among many. Sam manages to keep it together, but barely. Finally, he is called upstairs to take care of an unsavory problem in the ladies’ room, and that just tears it. He begins taking advantage of his job to benefit himself, he becomes more assertive with the chef, and things begin to look up. With a callback for a part in a play at Lincoln Center, a large amount of credit card debt, and a serious need to bolster his self-respect, he learns to play the game along the lines of it’s not what you know, but who you know.
Another day, another few dollars, another audition, and so what, right? Well, the “what” is that all these people and more are played by Fenner. He is his own family, his bosses, his customers, his agent’s representative, and everyone who “appears” in the play, 41 in all, with various regional dialects and foreign accents. It’s a home run for the young actor who showed us what he could do in Angels in America, Parts I and II, and takes it up several notches with this performance. He is amazing. The play is fun, but it all depends on the one man performing it, and Fenner delivers from entrance to exit.
Artistic Director Gary F. Bell guided the actor through this 90-minute display of versatility written by Becky Mode and based on the experiences of Mark Setlock, who originally played Sam. It all evolved from a series of sketches generated by Setlock’s job answering the phone at Bouley, a “high-end TirBeCa restaurant” (according to the program), though the actual characters and situations are said to be fictional. Sam works in a messy downstairs office designed by Justin Been and lit by Tyler Duenow. It’s mostly background, however, as Sam performs almost entirely at a table set center how to write a essay front of the stage.
There is just one more weekend to see it, so I hope you’ll hurry on down. We need as many laughs as we can get right now, and Stray Dog, once again, proves it is doing some of the best work in St. Louis, and Greg Fenner is totally off the chain. Bravo!