- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2001

D.C. native Becky Mode has served up a theatrical dish that audiences savor.

The new playwright's "Fully Committed" stuffs more than 40 characters into the work life of a harried reservations clerk at a tony Manhattan restaurant. A struggling actor, Sam juggles his duties dealing with powerful people demanding tables with calls about auditions.

"Fully committed" refers to restaurants' euphemism for "booked," or "forget it."

Ms. Mode, 36, a New Yorker and graduate of Georgetown Day School in the District, met with success when the one-man show premiered at New York City's nonprofit Vineyard Theatre in September 1999. A few months later, it moved to the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre, where it continues to draw sold-out audiences. It also played in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston. It begins previews here Thursday at Ford's Theatre.

"There's something sort of different about it being in your hometown," Ms. Mode says. "I'm a little nervous … but the play has been going on for a long time [elsewhere]."

Ms. Mode will attend the opening at Ford's. A new mom, she plans to bring her 10-month-old son, Leo, and husband, free-lance journalist Chris Erikson, with her to Washington. Her parents, P.J. Mode, a litigator, and Elaine Mode, still live here.

"I'm just grateful for the whole experience," Ms. Mode says of the success of "Fully Committed." "I've been real lucky. It doesn't happen like this usually the first time out [writing a play]."

This may be Ms. Mode's first play, but she is not a new writer. She worked as a staff writer for the "Cosby" show and also did children's television.

She also came to know the New York restaurant world, which she relied upon to help pay her bills after moving to the city in 1991 to pursue acting. "I bottomed out on acting pretty quickly," she says. "I felt I spent most of the time waiting tables. I didn't want [acting] enough to do what [it] required."

She actually got her first acting job in Washington one summer, at the Market 5 Gallery at Eastern Market with a troupe whose name she no longer can remember. "I was the mom in 'The Skin of Our Teeth.' It was through a city arts program. It was one of my first paying jobs in theater," she says.

Ms. Mode, who lived as a youngster in Southwest near Arena Stage and then in the Forest Hills neighborhood in Northwest, majored in theater and English at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. After graduation, she did some theater work in Chicago and Boston and trained at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.

It was at ART that she met Mark Setlock, with whom she developed "Fully Committed."

Before their collaboration happened, Ms. Mode taught arts in public schools in New York and started writing children's shows, all the while working in restaurants.

"It occurred to me there was a play in the restaurant world," she says. "I thought maybe it could be a musical. But that was shelved because I didn't know where to begin."

Then Ms. Mode went to dinner one night with Mr. Setlock when they both were working at the now-defunct four-star Bouley in New York's TriBeCa area — he as a reservations clerk in the basement and she checking coats. The Midwestern Mr. Setlock was an unemployed actor at the time.

That's when "Fully Committed" originated. The play got to the stage about five years later, with Mr. Setlock playing the multitudinous roles.

New Yorkers, in particular, relish the various characters depicted in "Fully Committed." They include an elderly woman who complains about her senior-citizen discount being rejected and her food being too cold, an egomaniacal chef, a supermodel's personal assistant and a society grande dame.

Some consideration was given to tailoring the play to cities where it played, Ms. Mode says, but there doesn't appear to be a need.

"I think people like to make fun of New York, to laugh at New York," she says. "I think [the play] is about having a really tough job, power dynamics, wanting to do something other than what you're doing, and it's a comedy."

Since the play began, three other actors have done the show. At Ford's, Ethan Sandler (his credits include HBO's "Sex and the City") will command the stage. The director is Nicholas Martin.

Frankie Hewitt, Ford's producing artistic director, says she welcomes "Fully Committed" because "I always look for something that's humorous… . Historical stuff is just part of our mission."




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