Monday, August 22, 2011

Completeness: Even Scientists Do It

I saw the first preview of Completeness, a new play by Itamar Moses.  Because Playwrights Horizons actively asked for feedback from me before the show opened, I have decided to post my review.

I feel like I have not seen a contemporary new play in a while.  This is, of course, not true.  I saw Jerusalem and Good People on Broadway in the spring (both of which I loved).  I guess what I had not seen in a while was a show about young people and relationships--something that could be said is dealt with more commonly in Hollywood rom-coms and not something I see a lot of on the NY Stage (or at least since I stopped going to see friend's shows about their break-ups with their exes which is pretty much all the theater I saw in the late 90's).

I was trying to think of the last great play I saw that addressed young people and all I could come up with was This is Our Youth (Man that was an amazing play, Mark Ruffalo on stage was...I mean tears are coming to my eyes as I think about how heart-breaking and amazing that show was).  It has obviously been a while for me.

Completeness is about two graduate students at a university, one in Computer Science and one in Biology who collaborate on a project and end up in a relationship together.  There is a a substantial portion of the play that involves complex discussions of algorithms, proteins and other scientific talk...though most of it is used as foreplay.

After Act I, I was thinking that the play was funny.  The scientific verbosity of the characters was used to good effect to tell us who these two people are and how they engage with others (through the language of their respective areas of science).  Watching the couple get together was witty and enjoyable...but at the intermission I thought, ok, now how are you going to apply all that we, the audience, just learned to this journey between these two characters.  I mean if you were Stoppard the complex scientific conversations would be about more than these two people (see seriously if you can ever see a professional top-notch production of Arcadia, just do it.  One of my favorite plays of all time.).

As Act II came to a close, I realized the scientific talk sadly was not as well integrated into the themes of the show as I would have liked.  Yes, the physical and emotional collaboration actually changes these two characters and their professional lives.  Looking at your practice from the perspective of someone else can challenge you and expand your way of thinking in new and wonderful ways.  But the play really just ends up about how hard it is for young people to connect in relationships.  It's not a bad theme but it felt rather pedestrian.  I was also left wondering "why" the characters were the way they were (although previous relationships were blamed for certain aspects of their emotional constipation I didn't get a clear sense of what happened in those relationships--I was left wanting to know more or wanting to see more reasons for their emotional baggage).

That said for the most part the young cast was fantastic.  The comic timing in the first act was terrific.  They managed to get around all the scientific lingo with ease (and remember this was a first preview I saw).  There were some tech problems in the preview and the show had to stop for a little bit but that was fine.  The set in some ways reminded me of the carousel structure of the Motherfucker with the Hat.  The feel of graduate student housing was accurate.  I think they were still working out certain lighting cues and effects and I don't want to discuss them because I don't know if what I saw was intentional (again first preview). 

I got a little confused when the two supporting characters played multiple characters.  I caught on but it took me an extra beat or two to figure out what was happening.  I thought maybe stronger costume choices or bigger signifiers might have helped...but I caught on and it was fine.

It was an absolutely enjoyable production for a piece of light material. 

Disclosure: Tickets to this show were given to me as a gift by Ran Xia who paid a nominal fee for the tickets.

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