9:53 am Sep. 14, 2011
When computer scientist Elliot meets molecular biologist Molly during the first scene of Completeness, their attraction is instant and irresistible. This attraction—chemistry, to put it in a scientific metaphor—increases exponentially as the play unfolds, turning a simple “meet cute” opening into a satisfying play about relationships, compatibility, and the limits we put on our own potential.
There are a couple of obstacles facing these grad students right off the bat: Elliot already has a girlfriend (another grad student in his own academic department), and Molly is also involved (with her academic adviser). Both are given the heave-ho without much hesitation, but because they’re all at the same university, they don’t exactly go away; they stick around to meddle, cast aspersions, and instill doubts in Elliot and Molly’s minds about whether they’re capable of making true commitments.
The bigger problem, it seems, is that Elliot and Molly come from different worlds, at least in the small frame of reference of the academy. His world is one of speculative models and a search for perfect answers, hers is one of exhaustive empirical research with the hopes of making incremental improvements over previous exhaustive research. An unusual algorithm bridging their fields—offering a computer model for biological research—brings them together, drawing the ire of their respective departments and ex-lovers. But it’s unclear whether the algorithm will work, either for its intended scientific purposes, or as a means of keeping these two together. There are always ways to find definitive answers, Elliot assures Molly, but not always in a normal human lifetime.
There’s a lot of science in Itamar Moses’s play. It’s all explained well enough, but sometimes it feels like sitting through an A.P. class. What keeps it from getting too cerebral is the emotional and very human rhythm of the romance, sometimes synchronous, sometimes adversarial. Moses deftly lays out the differences between men and women and the things they say, do, want, and expect. And he does it with a lot of humor. (When Elliot and Molly get naked in bed for the first time, Molly ducks her head under the covers to get a closer look at the goods. “Having sex without examining the genitals is like biting into a piece of fruit without looking at it,” she explains. But the laugh is in the delivery: She is deadly earnest in her methodologies.
Aubrey Dollar is wonderful as Molly, brazen and seductive but still somewhat insecure. Karl Miller is a perfect match as Elliot, randy and romantic but shy and unable to read signals. As a couple they are tentative, awkward, and equally terrified of both losing one another and staying together. It feels wonderfully true for any young couple—even if they sometimes sound too experienced, too wounded, too eloquently self-aware for people their age. Moses’s dialogue also feels authentic: When they’re discussing abstract scientific theories, the students talk like (very accessible) lecturers giving well-rehearsed talks; when they’re discussing their feelings, they speak in inexact fragments, full of uncertainty and vagueness.
Meredith Forlenza and Brian Avers do well in multiple small, less developed roles. David Zinn’s set is simple but versatile, and Pam MacKinnon’s direction keeps the tone and pacing naturalistic.
The only major misstep is a rupture in the second act, where the rotating set “fails” in the middle of a scene: Lights come up, and the two supporting actors come out “as themselves” to explain the apparent malfunction to the audience. It all has to do with algorithms failing, equations freezing, too much information to process at once. But it takes the audience out of the story itself, which was managing the ideas gracefully and clearly enough on its own.
By the end, Elliot and Molly maintain their attraction, but it’s unclear whether that will be enough to sustain their relationship. He explains that he tends to feel constricted by romantic commitments; her response is a dispassionate “Let’s keep an eye on that.” She explains how she tends to simply disappear when boyfriends get too close; “Let’s keep an eye on that,” he says in return. It’s possible that they’re destined to be together and overcome their differences. The problem is, there’s no experiment to confirm this hypothesis, and no computer model to postulate an answer. At least not within a normal human lifetime, which is all that ultimately matters.
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- Carol Kane's talents are trapped in a play about Bette Davis that's like 'Dolores Claiborne' on barbiturates
- 'The Flick' is an unimaginably long, boring play