Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Sometimes I just love a show, flaws and all. This was definitely true of American Idiot (can't wait for the tour) and iHomo (we are in such need of serious conversations about unions right now). And now Itamar Moses's Completeness at Playwrights Horizons, which unfortunately just closed.

It seems so long ago now, but Hurricane Irene scrapped one of our NY weekends. Luckily, Lisa and I were able to reschedule Bluebird (Simon Russell Beale!) and Master Class (Tyne Daly!), but Book of Mormon make-up tickets on a weekend weren't available until December. But that meant I had time to see Completeness. (Lisa got a ticket for the Hair tour instead, and her complaints about Diane Paulus's changes to the show were more entertaining and better thought-out than the production was.)

Wow, did I bury the lede for this review! Completeness is a romance for the XKCD crowd. I wonder if non-science-nerds find this show's jargon off-putting, or if actual computer scientists and microbiologists find the dialogue too scientifically simplistic. I'm in no place to judge that because I work at a university, married an engineer, edit scientific books, and am addicted to theater. Also, I own one of the shirts worn in the show and another one looked familiar. Yeah, Moses wrote this play pretty much for me exactly.

Mostly the science problems as metaphors for relationship dilemmas work very well for me. They are generally on the right line between being obvious and too on-the-nose, and I find the dialogue clever and realistic--and often hilarious. But every once in a while it feels kind of lazy, as though Moses thinks the audience might get lost and/or he just couldn't bother to rewrite it better. But I love the idea of trying to tackle romantic problems the way one would a failed science experiment, where the data from each failure refines the approach to the next iteration. And the opposite idea that we can never truly account for every variable in science or in life. That sometimes we rely on intuition and inspiration and take leaps of faith based on the imperfect information available to us.

At the top of the show, computer science grad student Elliot (Karl Miller) twists his girlfriend's complaints about their relationship into an excuse for ending it so he can pursue the adorable woman he hangs around the computer cluster to stare at awkwardly. Molly (Aubrey Dollar) is a microbiology grad student who flees a romantic relationship with her advisor to take up with Elliot, whom she has also been eyeing from across the computer lab. Science is both an excuse for and method of flirting for them, and those science-heavy speeches are definitely the highlight of the script and where the actors' work shines most.

Miller's performance is a revelation. After the show, I texted my husband to tell him that I fell in love with his stage counterpart--both the character and Miller's performance in the role. I know he's been with the show for a long time (originating the role at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa), and it shows in his completely naturalistic acting. He's the most exciting new-to-me actor I've seen in a long time, and I hope he'll be in many, many more NY productions. Dollar was great with the overly excited, jargony speeches and in the flirty parts. I found her a bit acty at other times, but she is certainly better here than she was in Lucy Thurber's Bottom of the World at Atlantic Stage 2 (also, this is a better play).

The dialogue for the exes is in desperate need of rewriting. Heavy slash-and-burn rewriting. It's really dreadful in both wording and sentiment. Meredith Forlenza and Brian Avers, who play multiple roles in the show, just can't overcome the material they're given as the exes. They are much better as the enticing characters who threaten to break Elliot and Molly up. Also, kudos to them for being so charming that I managed to not groan audibly or throw my program on the floor in disgust during the fourth-wall-breaking idiocy (overly long to boot!) in the second act. Like the terrible cell-phones-in-the-theater diatribe at the beginning of Tony Kushner's iHomo, this scene MUST be deleted in future productions.

I'm so sad that I couldn't get back to the city to see Completeness again. Luckily, I think the play will do well regionally, so I'll probably be able to enjoy it again before too long. In the meantime, I'm on the lookout for the script so I can find out from my CS and bio friends how accurate the scientific descriptions of data crunching algorithms, traveling salesman problem, and trial-and-error with yeast experiments are.

And I'm praying to the theater gods (is there a patron saint for theater-goers?) that Karl Miller will stick around New York because I am completely in love with everything about his performance and need to see him in everything he ever does. Yup, I'm adding him to my bucket list.

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