Itamar Moses catches today’s lingo like butterflies. Completeness is about young people, in the Computer Science and Biology Departments of a university, talking about love, molecular biology and computer science, while going through a variety of partners. It’s good to have a play about people who are intelligent and care about their work.
Elliot is a Computer Science Assistant Professor (or thereabouts) who — beyond his sleepy-eyed cool — is dedicated to solving THE problem in Computer Science, “The Salesman’s Problem” — and if you see the play, he will tell you all about its complexities. He’s so articulate you feel he knows everything, except how to resolve the conflict between his anxiety about commitment (described in a hilariously hyperbolic monolog that’s a high point of the play) and a yearning to settle in with “the one” or “love” or whatever.
At the start, he’s in the process of ushering Lauren out of his bedroom and, in little time, ushering Molly in: she’s a grad student in molecular biology, and this seems promising because she’s as passionate about identifying a difficult-to-isolate protein as he is about “The Salesman’s Problem.” She’s a bit of a clickety-clackety run-on speaker — but that’s her enthusiasm, and anyhow he finds her adorable. Work is one level of existence, love’s another – and they both have had an eye on each other which adds up to it doesn’t take long to get naked and into bed.
Elliot sets about developing an algorithm to aid Molly’s scientific project. I found that really great: not only are they each intellectually engaged with their own work, they can work together! The playwright tries taking it to a more generalized level: that since he’s a Computer Scientist and she’s a Molecular Biologist, they complement each other not only as individuals but also in some broad sense of a union of life and mathematical abstraction. But that last comes across more like a sound bite; it makes the play easy to talk about, but isn’t fully realized.
Molly ditches her older Advisor/Professor in favor of Elliot (you can be sure the professor isn’t alone for long), and then, when Elliot and Molly are driven apart by their individual commitment angst, various partnerings arise — fast. Inner anguish and jealousy are expressed but never trouble the play’s bright, witty, surface. Whatever the characters are going through, we’re having a good time.
The characters themselves question why their generation is so fast about getting to sex, and so distant from commitment. There’s a resonant truth in the line about partnering, “We don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” an issue for this generation I’ve read about in the news. Promiscuity in this play doesn’t seem to be making anybody happy but it makes for a lot of amusing lines and situations which keep the audience happy.
In spite of all the lengths they go to explain themselves, though, and the fine acting, the characters seem types, though amusingly recognizable types. Why does this pair bond or not bond? We don’t sense it deeply, it could go either way. And it doesn’t seem to matter all that much.
The success of Completeness owes a lot to the excellent cast and brisk direction. Karl Miller plays the oh so sharp Elliot with intelligence and perfect timing, and makes the part his own. Whether about love or molecules, Aubrey Dollar spins Molly’s recitatives almost as fast as Figaro in the Barbara of Seville. Meredith Forlenza shows range as three avatars of contemporary young women including Lauren, the one with residual romantic expectations. Brian Avers plays with great appeal both the older professor who’s stuck on bench science and resists computer modeling, and the graduate student who sees through him. They are all fun to watch.
Completeness is comic fluff – not a “must” but it’s enjoyable.
Completeness plays at Playwrights Horizons on Wests 42nd Street in Manhattan through September 25th.
Your review highlights the present social and intellectual mores and avenues of endeavor. It is pleasing that this play is the classical sense a “comedy” – thank you for bringing it to my attention.