In a climactic scene of Completeness, female protagonist Molly says her millennial generation is doomed “to know just enough to know that [romance] never works, but not enough to know what… we’re supposed to do about it.” This is the key to understanding (sort of), Itamar Moses’ brainy rom-com, produced in SVSU’s black box this weekend as part of a new StudioXP production program for the Theatre Department. According to the program, StudioXP plans to take a more in-depth educational look at compelling scripts, and should be a welcome addition to the Great Lakes Bay Region.
Directed by SVSU Alum Jonah Conner, Completeness is an odd and challenging script. We are introduced to computer scientist Elliot (Joe Green) and molecular biologist Molly (Erica Close), who meet in the library of the college where they are both grad students. Molly is working on cell regeneration, but is having a hard time picking out the meaningful pieces of data from her yeast experiments. Eager to impress, Elliot offers to make a data mining program to help her, and they exchange contact info. Both characters dispose of their current romantic partners (Richelle Arguello as Elliot’s girlfriend Lauren, and Spencer Beyerlein as Molly’s beau and boss, Don), and then proceed to flirt, sleep together, and have lengthy scientific conversations cloaked in analogies. Both actors deliver their wordy monologues with impressive aplomb, navigating scientific and technical jargon and merging it with aspects of modern speech so as to create a natural feel to the dialogue. Close, in particular, comes alive when talking about the endless possibilities of protein bonds, and while it seems a bit nonsensical to someone without a science background, Molly is at her most passionate and real in those moments. Green does an excellent job as well, with great reactions and a subdued bookishness that feels very authentic.
Our supporting actors are no slouches either. Arguello has some very nice comedic timing in an awkward scene on the phone, and has engaging reactions throughout. Beyerlein is a standout in this show, especially in the Act 2 opening scene between Don and Molly. The scene ticks all the boxes of comedy, tension, and some nice dialogue and characterization, and he and Close have excellent antagonistic chemistry. Arguello and Beyerlein also spearhead a strange turn of events in Act 2, and although the device may not have worked for me the two actors were likeable and moved it along.
Director Jonah Conner has clearly worked with the cast a great deal on blocking - everything is fluid, well staged, and intuitive. He makes good use of every piece of furniture, and although some seats are better than others in the deep thrust stage, none seem left out of the action. There are quite a few sex scenes involving just underwear for the actors, and while they were staged tastefully they lacked some passion; the lack of physical intimacy of the actors seems out of place with the amount of nudity, and it does seem a bit gratuitous to have entire scenes performed in underwear.
While characterization is on point for the male characters, the female characters could have used a little more fleshing out. All the characters in the show are hyper-intelligent and socially awkward, but only the female characters frequently come across as irrational. Molly, in particular, is a little inscrutable; she begins the show as a dry academic, quickly turns into a seductress, whips around into an almost manic-pixie-dreamgirl with pit stops at sudden anger, and then dances back and forth between tragic and lovestruck. I would have loved to see these personas meshed a little more, with transitions feeling a bit more natural.
Some great work was done by Kylee Monahan (scenic designer), with the set consisting of a large blackboard covered in formulas (even the floor). It enhanced the idea that the characters were never far from their work, even in their personal lives, and was attractive and functional. Brittany LaCross did a nice, modern job with lighting design - I would have loved to see a bit more focus on the atomic structures at the top of the set, especially during transitions when pulsing lights occasionally highlighted scene changes instead of keeping them in mystery. Abby Burgess (costumes) and Allison Kania (makeup and hair) did a nice job, with costumes being appropriately collegiate and simple. Sound by Isaiah Powell was interesting but perhaps a little too recognizable for such an abstract, “artsy” show.
I would have loved a director’s note in the program. Conner clearly picked Completeness because it spoke to him, and with such a loose structure it’s very open ended as to what the audience is supposed to take away from it. Some of that could be chalked up to a bit stronger director’s vision, and maybe more clear use of the chalkboard during science monologues. Much of the issue, however, comes down to Moses’ script, which comes across as pretentious and a little bleak. There are several ideas seeded in here which are very compelling - the cyclical nature of relationships and how we make the same mistakes over and over again, the different paths a person can take to have different outcomes, the allure of possibilities over reality, or the idea that romance is an unsolvable problem, among others. The problem is that no one seed takes root, and the show as a whole feels meandering.
Ultimately, while Completeness makes for good dinner conversation, it’s definitely not something for the casual theatregoer. With great performances, interesting concepts, and some fun dialogue, it will definitely be something that theater enthusiasts will be thinking about days after seeing it. Tickets for the final show on November 17th at 7:30 can be purchased online or at the SVSU box office.