nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
September 10, 2011
What’s harder, love or science? For Elliot and Molly, grad students who can compute and explain complex algorithms and theories, it’s the former. The struggle for connection amongst late twenty/early thirty-somethings in the 2000s is at the heart of Itamar Moses’s immensely satisfying new comedy Completeness, directed by Pam MacKinnon at Playwrights Horizons. In the blink of an eye, Elliot and Molly can launch into explanations of probability and protein interaction in yeast cultures, yet neither can figure out precisely how to work a successful relationship.
Elliot works in computer science and probability; namely, struggling to solve the age-old Traveling Salesman Problem. Molly is studying molecular biology; primarily, protein pairings on yeast. He creates for her a complex algorithm that allows her to make sense of her data results. Sparks fly, of course, and they begin a hot-and-heavy sexual relationship, throwing their current lovers to the curb. Elliot and Molly are trying to forge a connection in an age where a computer does all the work; yet both are untrained and unskilled in the human connection that relationships need to be successful. That they’re both coming off long-term relationships, with partners that were, as Molly says, “That first person with whom you can envision actually having, like, a Home,” complicates things even more.
With a keen ear for ornate, highly theatrical, and modern human vernacular, Moses has created a most realistic portrait of the struggle for romantic connection in the computer age. Elliot and Molly are living, breathing people, not the archetypes that are displayed in big-budget Hollywood rom-coms. It helps that Karl Miller and Aubrey Dollar have a natural chemistry and deliver gentle, heartbreaking performances, quietly nuanced, and entirely believable.
They also do an expert job delivering the impeccably researched scientific jargon which Moses has included in his script. While some may find Elliot and Molly’s loquacity distracting or, worse, boring and impenetrable, I found it completely natural, as I’ve known many people who are just as ready and able to deliver long extemporaneous monologues about their fields of work and study. I’ll admit I didn’t get all of it, but it never once seemed forced.
There are two other actors, Meredith Forlenza and Brian Avers, who play three characters each, Elliot and Molly’s former and future partners. That they look and sound slightly alike suggests an interchangeable quality; the partners may be different but the quest is still the same. MacKinnon’s unfussy direction allows this point to breathe and grow organically, while David Zinn’s set and costumes and Russell H. Champa’s lighting are just right. Zinn’s set is particularly noteworthy, folding in and out of itself, to create a computer and biology lab and two bedrooms that perfectly complements the styles that you’d expect Elliot and Molly to enjoy.
The only misstep is Moses’s indulgence in his love of self-reference. While it worked in his plays The Four of Us and Authorial Intent, sucking the audience out of this particular play during the eleventh hour and trying to make it seem unscripted doesn’t. While I think I got his intent—that romance is as complicated as, well, putting on a play, this intent is debatable, the effect distances us, and it’s just unnecessary.
Still, it’s easy to forgive. Completeness is his best play yet.