“I don’t want someone who can do 37 voices,” says director David Mackay. “I want 37 characters.”
Therein lies the magic he hopes to capture with local actor Brian Fidler when they team up to present Fully Committed at the Guild Hall Feb. 5 to 21.
Fidler needs to present 37 characters in this one-man play written by Becky Mod
e. Some are unreasonable, some are bullying and others, well, there are a lot of others.
The main character, Sam Peliczowski, offers an additional layer of complexity for the actor by evolving throughout this one-act play while other characters are diminished.
“Sam” is the reservations clerk at one of Manhattan’s hottest restaurants and is battered by strong personalities looking for a seat … and it has to be the right seat.
He is also an out-of-work actor who has a shot at a choice part at the Lincoln Center and he is also the son of a recently widowed father.
It’s a comedy, a story, of a pivotal day in one man’s life that Fidler must tell, and he must be prepared for it.
“I’ve been reading this play every day for two months,” says Fidler. “It is just [he gestures to his head with both hands] there; that was the goal; it has to be at that point.”
Then came the difficult work of transitioning from one block to another, from one character to another.
“He needs dialogue to cue himself and to set up other characters,” says Kim Hawkins, the play’s stage manager. “I need to know what to let go and certain words that work.”
“Yeah, she’s good at that,” says Fidler. “Like, is it, ‘Put Zagat on the line’ or ‘Get Zagat on the phone’?
“It was a good thing when David had to go to New York City for five days; we couldn’t get much further at that point, so Kim and I just drilled lines.
“I had them memorized, but I had trouble with the transitions.
“She was really great. She asked me, ‘Do you want this to be word perfect or shall I interrupt you?’
“But she also needs to know when not to help me because David may want me to work through it.”
Fidler’s Ramshackle Theatre is co-producing the play with The Guild. So it was up to him to hire Mackay. The Guild’s artistic director, Eric Epstein, knew of Mackay and suggested him.
“I Googled him,” says Fidler. “It’s a good fit; he has a directing background but he has played a lot of clowns in Shakespeare, and that appealed to me.
“He knows what I am going through.”
It is not necessary that Fidler and Mackay like each other, but when there is one director and one actor, it is nice.
“It would make for a horrible cast party,” deadpans Mackay.
But keeping track of only one actor didn’t make his job any easier: “Because there are 37 ‘characters’, I need to keep my eyes open,” says Mackay.
“You need to control the conflict.”
Still, with one actor, it can be intense.
“It must be frustrating being on stage all that time, and the all-day rehearsals and the notes,” Mackay sympathizes.
However, Mackay and Hawkins never conspired to trade-off being critical.
“Every day was Pick-On-Brian Day,” says Hawkins.
But is Mackay easier on him when he is portraying a female character?
“He brings me coffee and flatters me,” Fidler answers. Mackay lets that comment pass.
Mackay says he is glad that Fidler is one of the few actors in Canada who can pull off playing 37 characters: “You don’t want this to be an acting lesson,” he says.
“No, no, these are not just silly voices. How Brian separates them is amazing.
“And Brian’s work ethic is excellent.”
“Thank you,” Fidler quietly says to Mackay, obviously touched.
Then, to me, “We both want it to be a good show.”
And Fidler’s wife, Emily Woodruffe, will be glad when he doesn’t come home with 37 characters in his head anymore.
“She says I’m having an affair with them,” says Fidler.
Fully Committed plays at the Guild Hall Wednesdays to Saturdays, Feb. 5 to 21, at 8 p.m.
Tickets are available at Well-Read Books and at the door if still available.