One-man show hits the spot

Michael Doherty in one of nearly 40 separate roles he performs in Theatre Horizon's production of "Fully Committed." Photo: by Matthew J. Photography.

Tick off Theatre Horizon's production of Becky Mode's Fully Committed as one more reason to remain on this end of the New Jersey Turnpike. Sure, you could see Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson doing it on Broadway, but why? Philadelphia's own Michael Doherty - a University of the Arts grad who's become one of the city's most reliable young talents - plays all 36 of the show's characters just fine right here in Norristown.

The solo comedy, which premiered in 2000, takes place in the backroom bowels of an au courant Manhattan restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy. You know the sort: Celebrity chef, A-list clientele, barely there dishes of foam essence and scented steam served in an "edible plastic bag." Its staff is international, its diners demanding, and poor Sam, left alone to handle all the day's reservations while his fellow phone-bank co-workers remain mysteriously absent, must whirl among four telephones with multiple lines all at once.

Director Kathryn MacMillan carefully modulates the action, giving Doherty a rhythm with which to work, as well as a few moments to breathe between juggling tables, times, and special requests (of those, gluten-free is only the jumping-off point). It's a slip of a plot with several humorous throughlines. Will Sam, an out-of-work actor, get the role of a lifetime? Which of the restaurant's warring VIPs gets the coveted Table 31? And one emotional anchor is attached to Sam's recently widowed father and the slim possibility of a trip home for Christmas.

Time will serve this production well, as Doherty still occasionally forgets to hit telephone buttons while he's zipping through accents and characters, which, considering how frenetic the show's pacing can get, isn't entirely surprising. But it is plenty funny, and pretty fun to watch Doherty whiplash from hunched over with a crabbed and pinched face and the drawl of an Upper East Side restaurant maven, to Sam's straight-backed, wide-eyed, sincere demeanor, to Chef's languid gestures and slightly sadistic Teutonic purr.

I'm sure Ferguson does wonderful and very different things with this role; it's a show-off's playground, and Ferguson is older than Doherty, with more of an edge. But that's the beauty of Fully Committed, and why it keeps coming back, albeit with a rotating list of boldface names on its reservations list. Find a solid performer with excellent range, allow him to build Sam and friends to suit his strengths (although there's no reason Sam couldn't also be a Samantha), let him loose on stage, and the audience gets to enjoy each production's full menu of delicious characters.