For several years, the Alley Theatre had alternative programming in its downstairs theater paired with the showings upstairs of A Christmas Carol. And for several years that alternative was The Santaland Diaries with Alley Theatre company's Todd Waite the star of the one-man show.
That alternative programming got kind of lost in the wake of the Hurricane Harvey flooding devastation but this year the Alley decided to get back on board with a new Neuhaus stage offering. Alley Company member Dylan Godwin is about to make his debut in playwright Becky Mode's Fully Committed, the one actor, on-act story of Sam Callahan, a would-be actor handling the reservations desk at a New York City restaurant at the height of the holiday season.
The parallels to Santaland Diaries are clear in that both main characters are would-be actors, supplementing their incomes with side jobs. And Waite certainly took on other characterizations, most notably his boss at Macy's. And historical footnote here, for several years Godwin was the cover for Waite and was fitted for his own elf costume. although he never got the chance to go on, says Godwin.
In Fully Committed, Godwin, who has already made a name for himself as a versatile character actor at the Alley (the clown in The Winter's Tale, Hector McQueen in Murder on the Orient Express and King Louis XIII in The Three Musketeers to name just a few) gets to really stretch as he plays more than 40 characters as he tries to make everyone happy while hoping to get a part in a play and somehow get home to Ohio and his recently widowed father in time for Christmas.
"It's a Michelin-starred restaurant. My character Sam is a reservationist. Imagine all this splendor and grandeur of this fancy restaurant upstairs, well I'm down in the basement taking reservations," Godwin says. "You can imagine the clientele of a four-star restaurant trying to get a reservation close to Christmas. And everyone throwing their weight around and leveraging themselves to get this coveted reservation. He's answering the phones and trying to get home for Christmas and he's a struggling actor and slowly realizing that he's not going to get home for Christmas."
And the demands don't just come from members of the public wanting a table at this trendy restaurant. Sam also has to deal with his internal superiors including the head chef and a maitre 'd. Amid all of this, Sam is hoping for a call back from the Lincoln Center for a part in Twelfth Night.
The pressure is, of course, enormous, but as Godwin explains, this isn't just one zany anecdote after another. Throughout the play the audience finds out more and more about Sam — the death of his mother in the past year for instance — that round him out and definitely make him the main character. "What the play does really brilliantly is the way it unfolds the exposition for you. You learn more about him as the play goes on through the characters that he's dealing with," Godwin says.
This time around, Godwin says, the role doesn't call for any kind of costume. He's wearing normal contemporary clothing, the kind that a struggling actor would be wearing in case he got called out to a sudden audition. "As actors we sometimes get that 'This is the audition where it's going to happen. Everything hinges on this audition.' So you can imagine it's not out of the world of possibilities that he would, while he's a responsible guy, might leave those phones ringing if there was an opportunity to get out of there."
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While Godwin can certainly identify with the struggling actor role, defying the sterotypes he never actually worked in the restaurant industry. "I was always lucky enough that all my sideline jobs were sort of in the realm of theater. I did a lot of teaching; I did a lot of directing at kids musical theater schools." One excption was when he worked at a shop on 19th Street for six months when he first moved to Houston. "I was so terrible at it. If someone asked me to make change I'd just break out in hives. So I always knew that was probably not my bailiwick."
Working with director Brandon Weinbrenner, Godwin says he's been studying his lines and the approach he wants to take for months. "It takes a long damn time to figure out 40 different people," he says laughing.
"I am so excited and so scared which is a great combination. I’m over the moon excited to do this. For every actor it’s a real test. You want to see if you can do it, to hold up to the rigor of being onstage by yourself and carrying the whole thing with just the audience."
Performances of Fully Committed are scheduled for November 26 though December 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $47-$62.