Some doubted that John Kuntz could or should play Shakespeare's Richard III back a month or so ago. Few however would doubt his ability to play Sam, the aspiring actor taking reservations for a posh NYC restaurant, in Becky Mode's "Fully Committed" which runs through the holidays on the Lyric Stage in Copley Sq. Many were quite surprised at the depth of his quirky performance as the murdeous king. Those familiar with Kuntz' own one man shows, including "St*rf*ckers" which won him a Norton Award as well as a NYC Fringe commendation, will find a different sort of depth in this performance. Perhaps his experience as a playwright-- his sixth play, "Jasper Lake", a full-length thriller, premiered at Boston Playwrights' this fall--has made him more cognizant of a through line of action. Despite his bravura creation of forty some people on the other end of the line, he, and ace director Spiro Veloudos, never lose sight of the arc of Mode's play.
The original 1999 production in NY directed by Nicholas Martin was moved from the Vineyard to Cherry Lane, where this short two-act piece had a respectable run. Indeed, that same show was seen in Boston as one of Martin's "legacy" productions at the Huntington, starring Matt Setlock, creator of many of the play's eccentric characters. Kuntz's interpretation of these personae is broader at times, but not so sarcastic, and thus a bit more likeable. One senses that these impersonations are how Sam, the actor, might play the demanding patrons and the diverse staff of this restaurant.
The original had a set by frequent Martin collaborator, James Noone, whose over-elaborate efforts can be seen for "Burn This" currently running at the Huntington. The Lyric's quite detailed rendition of Sam's basement purgatory is an effective creation by production manager, Skip Curtis. He understands the space, which is lit by the Company's master electrician, B.U. senior Robert Cordella, who's no slouch either. Dewey Dellay provides a soundscape which includes seasonal music guaranteed to curdle the soul. But the rest of the production actually manages to capture something of the holiday spirit.
Kuntz teaches solo performance at Emerson, as one of his several sidelines--he's also done a few movies--and was the "confidence counselor" on the recent PBS "How to Survive High-School." His metamorphosis during the course of "Fully Committed" has a definite personal touch. Indeed, the mocking title of this play might just describe his dramatic efforts over the past several years. He's indeed more than fully committed to the theatre.
Along with the Boston Ballet's "The Nutcracker", temporarily housed in the Colonial while the Wang Center tries to make more money with the touring version of the Rockettes, there are the usual proliferation of adaptations of Dickens' sentimental classic around town. Emerson decided not to bring back Trinity's newer version which premiered dowtown at the Majestic last season. That modernization is back in the drawer while Oskar Eustis prepares to wrap things up and head for NYC and the Public Theatre. Trinity Rep in Providence is doing their usual double bill using the company and the community in two productions of Adrian Hall's concoction, one with a female Scrooge. The North Shore Music Theatre, beginning their Golden Anniversary Season, continues to refine their "musical ghost story" with a more complex intro. It might just be the best "Christmas Carol" in New England. Stoneham Theatre is trying out a new version based on a script director Robert Jay Cronin began two years ago at Northern Vermont, with original music by Angelyn Fullerton with whom he shares credit for lyrics. Their show's mix of new and old doesn't quite gel. Both productions make good use of the burgeoning crop of juvenile musical theatre performers in the area, which bodes well for productions down the road. The Company Theatre in Norwell has a different musical version for the South Shore, and there are community theatre productions scattered here and there. Of course, readings abound, headlined by an NPR benefit at B.U. Incidentally, "The Nutcracker" seems to some to be much more audience-friendly in the less grandious setting of the Colonial, though real balletomanes will head to Jose Mateo's production in Cambridge while the more adventurous will seek out Ballet Rox "Urban Nutcracker".
There are no truly satirical holiday offerings; this trend seems to have been over-ridden by political comedy, including Tim Robbin's "Embedded" which drifts into North Eastern Dec. 18 & 19. But in an attempt to attract more audience to theatre downtown, the Mayor's Office for Cultural affairs has arranged ticket discounts for a number of companies. And it's not even an election year.
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