THE DINNER GAME
Byline: Robert Haskell
NEW YORK — Bunny Vandevere needs a table tonight, and she can be flexible between the hours of 7:30 and 8. Oh, and she simply must have table 31 (“We sort of have a standing reservation,” she explains). But if she can’t have 31, then she’ll take 19. And if she can’t have 19, then for heaven’s sake, please let it not go to Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn.
New Yorkers who hope to eat at one of the city’s top restaurants know that the minute they pick up the phone, they’re in for a harrowing drama. The only difference in “Fully Committed,” Becky Mode’s play about a day in the life of a restaurant reservationist, is that it’s high comedy.
“It’s like a sporting event,” says Mode about the play’s rapid-fire interchanging of voices and characters — the patrons, the maitre d’, the chef, and of course Sam, the reservationist — all performed by Mark Setlock.
Setlock himself used to work the phones at the old Bouley, and Mode’s experience in restaurants ran the gamut from kitchen to coat check.
“I always knew I wanted to do a restaurant play,” explains Mode, who met Setlock when they were both acting students at the ART at Harvard.
“But the people we actually had to deal with were just a jumping-off point imaginatively,” she says.
There’s the chef who is more interested in a new gizmo from his Ferrari dealer than in a call from his mother, and who cares more about a helicopter to the airport than about his jicama-smoked Scottish wood squab poached in a chive broth and wrapped in wilted spinach.
Then there’s Brice from Naomi Campbell’s office, just calling to make sure the restaurant understands that Naomi wants an all-vegan tasting menu, soft lighting — and, of course, no female waitstaff.
Meanwhile, Jean-Claude upstairs has given Henry Kravis a table by the kitchen door, and Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn is still on hold and is willing to wait all day.
The play has already had the dramatic equivalent of a round of pre-opening tastings (it ran for six weeks at the Vineyard Theatre this fall), and begins a commercial run this week at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre.
“Tim and Nina Zagat came to the play and loved it,” says Mode. “They ended up buying a night and coming back with their entire staff.”
“And Daniel Boulud invited us to his restaurant for dinner,” adds Setlock.
“The irony,” Mode continues, “is that in its first run, ‘Fully Committed’ became one of the most sought-after tickets in town. Restaurateurs were calling whoever they knew to get tickets.”
In what must have been the strangest role-reversal of them all, Drew Nieporent, the owner of Nobu and Montrachet, actually tried to get Tim Zagat to find him a seat.
“People come up to me,” says Mode, “and thank me. They react as if I’ve written their story.”
It’s high time for a send-up of the New York restaurant scene’s theater of cruelty — but what Mode and Setlock didn’t realize is that a growing number of restaurants don’t accept reservations.
“Oh, no!” Setlock jokes, “We’re through!”
“No,” says Mode. “There’ll always be that secret phone line.”