Actors Are the Opposite of People

Amy Danielson

The Twin Cities’ theater scene definitely has a future, and with any luck Nathan Keepers will stick around for it. The actor has made himself known for his adept physicality in multiple roles at Theatre de la Jeune Lune throughout the last four seasons. While Keepers has been steadily working over the past few years, he typically gets cast in minor, supporting parts. Now, he has taken off on his own in a particularly intrepid role. Keepers stars in “Fully Committed,” a challenging one-man show featuring 40 characters.

This production could not have been cast more precisely. His experience, especially as a struggling actor, must have helped him realize the role. Here, he plays Sam, an out-of-work actor in New York City. To eat, he works in the basement of a swanky Manhattan restaurant, taking reservations on the phone. Keepers also plays the 39 other characters that Sam talks to – on three different phones, no less – throughout his work day.

Keepers cleverly uses his experience in physical theater to weave distinctions among the characters. Also, he has a chance to dominate the dialogue, markedly altering his voice with each character shift. He transitions through a multitude of characters inspired by playwright Becky Mode’s days as a young starving actress. She worked as a waitress at the ultra-posh Bouley restaurant in Manhattan. This play is more or less based on Mode’s fellow acting student, Mark Setlock, who paid his bills as a reservationist at Bouley. He would imitate the loathsome customers to pass the time.

Maybe this show was not written with Keepers in mind, but it could just as well have been. Keepers begins the play as Sam. It is obvious that Keepers can empathize with this sort of struggling actor lifestyle from the way he lets gravity pull him down the spiral staircase to the dank, cellar-like set. Casually moving from coat rack to a crudely constructed table, past boxes of Christmas decorations, Keepers emulates a young man who values his job so much he ignores the ringing, multi-line phone until the exact moment his work day starts.

Customers range from the self-important socialite, Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, to the overly flamboyant and friendly, Bryce, who calls multiple times for his supermodel boss, Naomi Campbell. As Bryce, Keepers raise the pitch of his voice to request all vegan tasting menus and special lighting at Campbell’s table. Keepers plays Bryce with a subtle lisp, tilted head and pencil-waving hand. Effortlessly, he can switch to a character such as Jean Claude, the maitre d’, with a formal persona who snidely mocks the demanding Rosenstein-Fishburn: “She’s so ugly.”

Keepers excels as Sam, who, in his misery, has to explain the macho, sadistic chef’s lingo to his less-sophisticated callers. For example, the chef makes him say things such as, “Unfortunately, ma’am, we’re fully committed that weekend.” In which customers such as the wife of a southern executive inquires, “You’re full of what now?” Woefully for the hungry Sam, he is not full of the chef’s ridiculously-priced “global fusion” cuisine. Or the chef’s irrationality for that matter – he is the kind of guy who does not know who Diane Sawyer is and delights in making his reservationists clean up messes in women’s restrooms.

In the mix of all these pretentious, toe-tapping customers and nose-picking staff remains Sam in all of his insecurity. During a break from the ringing phones, he calls his voicemail and the “Village Voice” personals network. Both message banks are empty and Keepers’ head falls forward in a pathetic, but completely natural way. If there is something that will brighten his day, it surely is not advice from his agent’s assistant on getting a role: “Prepare a strong sense of personal entitlement.”

Fortunately, Keepers exhibits just the sort of entitlement his character struggles to muster. Hopefully, this success will not prompt him to run off to New York. Then he would probably have to listen to the narcissistic banter of celebrities on stage with him instead of on the phone.

“Fully Committed” plays through Jan. 5 at The Jungle Theater, (612) 822-7063.

Amy Danielson welcomes comments at [email protected]