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A CurtainUp Review

. . . does this like actually interest you, or . . . ? —Elliot

Yes very much.— Molly

Really?— Elliott

You listened to my whole thing about protein interaction networks.—Molly

True but that was back before I knew if I was going to see you naked later.—Elliot

Aubrey Dollar and Karl Miller in
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
There's a lot of talk about algorithms and protein cultures in this amusing new play by Itamar Moses. But, as you can see from the above quote, there's also a lot of pillow talk. Most of the stuff about how algorithms work spouted by Elliot will go over your head, as will Molly's talk about her research in the biology grad studies program at the university where they meet. But you don't need to understand algorithms to know that Elliot has parlayed his expertize into a most effective means for getting attractive, bright women to share his bed. Forget images of Nerdy overweight computer geeks, but meet the post grad version of the sexually irresistible undergraduate football hero.

Mr. Moses who is to be admired for never repeating himself, has now written a play that is essentially a contemporary romance about a young man and woman, both of whom are not too fixated on their work for romantic diversion, but neither of whom (especially Elliot) is ready for a long-term commitment. Add the politics of how college research programs are supported, college advisers who are not averse to inappropriate relationships with the grad students under their wings and who resort to unprofessional bias and power plays when they are rejected.

Playwrights Horizons has bestowed this world premiere with an A-1 creative. Director Pam MacKinnon and set and costume designer David Zinn, who previously helmed and designed Moses plays, splendidly support the verbal pyrotechnics. Zinn's smoothly gliding and sliding set neatly transitions between several locations at the unnamed university and Molly and Elliot's apartments. Projection and video designer Rocco DiSanti smartly makes Elliot's algorithm theories less intimidating, if hardly more enlightening.

Neither slick set and smooth direction or the high falutin' computer and biological science dialogue in which this romance is wrapped would work without actors to make Molly and Elliot into people who have us rooting for a they lived happily ever after and both had thriving careers ending. I'll leave it to you to find out how their relationship pans out and whether his algorithm program will move her yeast project forward. But rest assured that both Aubrey Dollar and Karl Miller make following Molly and Elliot in and out of bed activities fun to follow.

The other two cast members, Meredith Forlenza and Brian Avers, add to the fun in three roles each. Actually one of of the highlights of the two-hour play is a scene in which Molly confronts Avers as her smarmy adviser Don about his attitude towards her work being influenced by his anger at her breaking off their more personal relationship. The multi-role casting also gives Avers a chance to play a good guy — a fellow grad student who turns out to be more friend than competitor and willing to give her access to his lab mice.

There's also a delicately handled bit of fantasy: Just as Molly and Elliot talk about their romantic pasts, her first boyfriend and his first girlfriend move ghost-like in and out of the room. Decidedly less delicate and successful is a second act faux problem scene. With the help of Champa's lighting and DiSanti's video the show comes to an explosive, meta-theatrical stop. It's a gimmick that's too clever for its own good.

As Moses' best play, Back Back Back was full of insider references to baseball but didn't require an encyclopedic knowledge of the game to be appreciated, so Completeness can be enjoyed without understanding a word of all the technical talk. That said, Moses. does lay it on with a trowel which may account for Molly so frequently stopping Elliot by telling him she has to pee. You may not see or have seen a play that uses the word "algorithm" 13 times, but neither are you likely to have come across one that uses the word "pee" as often.

For links to other science and math related plays reviewed at Curtainup, see our Science ad Math play page

Links to Itamar Moses plays reviewed at Curtainup:
The Four of Us
Bach at Leipzig
Back, Back, Back
Love Stories

Completeness by Itamar Moses
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Cast: Brian Avers (Don/Clark/Franklin), Aubrey Dollar (Molly), Meredith Forlenza (Lauren/Katie/Nell), Karl Miller (Elliott)
Scenic and costume design: David Zinn
Lighting design: Russell H. Champa
Original Music andSound: Bray Poor
Production Stage Manager: Charles M. Turner III
From8/19/11; opening 9/13/11; closing 9/25/11
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
Playwrights Horizons Main Stage 416 W. 42nd St.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 9/10/11
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