9/25/2020 COMPLETENESS Horizon Theatre
Itamar Moses' Completeness is a wordfest for science geeks and computer nerds. This is a good thing, as I myself often dabble in science geekery and computer nerdism.
Elliot is a graduate student in computer technology. Molly is a peer in molecular biology. Their separate projects requre them to attempt a melding of disciplines, and faster than a slash from Occam's Razor, they are melding minds, hearts, and loins, having quickly (and brutally) discarding their "not-quite-good-enough" mates.
As the projects and the relationship develops, complications and doubts multiply exponentially, and it's not long before the concept of "completeness" becomes unobtainable and moot. You see, Eliot's data-mining algorithm requires either infinite time or infinite "accurate guessing," and Molly's yeast-protein analysis succeeds by chance rather than design, making the cause of that success as elusive as any process with multiple parameters and random inputs. You see, both characters carry emotional baggage and primal urges that introduce those elements of chaos into what should be a straight-forward sequence of emotional encounters.
These are characters who love to talk, even if it means talking themselves OUT of what they really need or even want. More to the point, their conversations are filled with jargon and theory and references, most of which did not pass "over my head" (lucky me), all of which are fascinating glimpses into their characters while remaining metaphorical wallows in science and emotion, in the symbiosis that often passes for "conflict" between the objective and the subjective. I simply loved listening to them.
In the talk-back after last night's Zoom streaming, Charles Ford, a biologist specializing in "The Biology of Love," commented that, in evolutionary terms, that dopamine rush caused by first love eventually dims due to over-familiarity, and, eventually, when the kids are old enough to survive on their own, the eyes begin to wander, hence the "seven-year itch." I couldn't help thinking of a counter-argument from a Newtonian physics entropic perspective -- a body at rest (i.e. "in a relationship") tends to stay at rest (i.e. "in a relationship"), while a body in motion (i.e. "footloose and fancy-free") wants to nail anything that (also) moves. The real issue for Eliot and Molly is that they are using their "emotional baggage" to remain "in motion," something I daresay is true of all commitment-phobes.
Until it's not.
This production was taped for "broadcast" last July, and I daresay the preparation time was used wisely, as the editing (by the amazing Amy Levin) is sharp and the transition graphics are stunningly beautiful and appropriate. Director Heidi Cline McKerley has drawn out charmingly compelling and likable performances from Chris Hecke and Naima Carter Russell, even when they're acting sophomoric and patently unlikable. Shelli Delgado and Eric J. Little play multiple characters who are their random objects of affection (or at least attention) and both contribute subtle performances that flesh out what could have been "stock" characters.
I do have to confess that Zoom does not display some story elements to the best advantage -- it's tad disconcerting when characters kissing are so obviously in separate rooms -- and costumes and backgrounds remain the same, despite different settings and seasons. But that's a "carp" I was able to overlook as the sheer momentum of the dialogue and the characters kept them from becoming (too much of) a distraction.
If I may make an appropriate political digression, too many of us today are searching for "certainty" ("completeness" if you will), so much so that they will believe any random "fact" (true or not) that supports their certainty, and will reject tried and true science if there is a single occurrence of it being wrong. But reality is messy and chaotic and all science comes with a statistical error factor that too many of us ignore when inconvenient to our certainty. Our brains can be the ultimate (flawed) "data miner" sifting out all the "noise" that does not support our point of view, and over-accepting outliers that do.
Is it any wonder that "completeness" remains as elusive as Schrödinger's Cat. It makes you wonder how any relationship ever lasts. But it makes me happy that they do. Or at least content to accept the entropy of it all.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #Completeness #HorizonTheatre)
Postscript: Just to vent a gripe about a habit many critic display to justify their cool reaction to a play, a sort of "what if" sophism. For example, in the New York Times' original negative review of the 2011 Off-Broadway production of an earlier version of this play, the writer opines, "Scrape away the fancy matrix of meaning Mr. Moses carefully layers over his barebones plot to give it some depth (...) and the play is a familiar story of young love’s travails." This is just another way of saying "eliminate everything that makes this play extraordinary, and it becomes ordinary," which, to my mind (and aesthetic) is pointless and can be applied at almost any work, great or not.