Michael Stebbins recently joined Rep Stage as artistic director, producer and occasional actor. He is starting his job in spectacular fashion by starring in Fully Committed. Becky Mode's comedy, which runs through Feb. 26, puts Stebbins alone on the stage for an hour and a quarter, playing 40 characters.
The show is a series of telephone conversations, with Stebbins acting both sides. The central character, Sam, is an aspiring actor who works in the dingy basement of a posh New York restaurant, answering phones and booking reservations.
The food is probably great, but people go there for other reasons: to be able to say they dined there, to be seen, to impress important guests. Sam has been instructed never to tell callers the restaurant is "all booked up." The proper term is "fully committed."
Sam is the lowliest employee, lower even than the busboys.
He is bullied, exploited, manipulated or ignored by the rest of the staff: The owner/chef, imperious and sadistic; Jean-Claude, the flustered maitre d'; Stephanie, the suave but unfeeling hostess.
Bob is supposed to be helping Sam book reservations, but he calls to say his car has broken down on the Long Island Expressway. Sam believes him. Oscar seems to work in the business office. He is vague and confused but the only decent person in the bunch.
Sam has recently auditioned for a show at Lincoln Center and is anxiously waiting to hear whether he will be called back for a second reading. Meanwhile, sipping cold coffee from a paper cup, he has to deal with incessant telephone calls - demanding, importuning, threatening, desperate - from people who want reservations.
There are the obvious ones: The oil-rich sheik who is flying in from Paris with a large entourage; the personal assistant to a star, who demands a particular table, a vegan menu, an all-male wait staff, even special lighting.
There is also an irate woman, emphasizing the fact that she is a senior citizen and making sure to announce her age (she's 84). She complains that she was not given a senior citizen discount.
There's Mr. Watanabe, who has to consult a Japanese-English conversation guide during the call. He and Sam never reach an understanding.
And a sinister male voice wants the waiters to sing a song to his parents. The song is not complimentary - Rodgers and Hart's "The Lady Is a Tramp" - but the maitre d' is afraid to refuse because he recognizes the caller as a mafioso.
Adding to Sam's troubles are his personal calls. His mother has recently died, and his lonely father, back in the Midwest, suggests it would be nice if Sam came home for Christmas. He is gently understanding when Sam explains the restaurant will be open through the holidays.
Jerry, a fellow actor who went to the audition with Sam, has been asked to return and can't help subtly bragging about it. Sam's brother tells him sternly that it is his duty to be with their father at Christmas. He can't make it himself.
Things get increasingly hectic and complicated until, at the climax, the playwright gives Sam a Christmas present. Everything he has been wanting - and more - comes to him..
Michael Stebbins does an admirable job in an exhausting role, and makes a gallant stab at differentiating the author's myriad characters. Susan Kramer's direction helps him keep his bearings in the script.
The set, designed by Daniel Ettinger, accurately depicts the dreary environment in which Sam spends his working life: a crowded, cluttered basement room, desks piled with papers, phones everywhere, swivel chairs, filing cabinets and various junk no longer needed in the restaurant.
Rep Stage has a history of one-person shows. In 2002, Tana Hicken portrayed Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, and the next year Valerie Lash performed a Ruth Draper monologue called The Italian Lesson.
Fully Committed, with its unusual concept, colorful characters and clever lines and situations, is an enjoyable addition to this roster.
Rep Stage presents "Fully Committed" at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 26, in Theater Outback at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Reservations: 410-772-4900 or www.howardcc.edu/repstage.