COMPLETENESS: Finding an Algorithm for Love
by Kelly Miller
What do computer algorithms, proteins and molecular biology have to do with love? In Completeness, Itamar Moses’ new comedy about the challenges of finding love and connection in the 21st-century, the answer is Everything.
Meet Elliot, a charming computer scientist who offers to create a computer algorithm to help Molly, a cute, new molecular biologist at his university, with her research. Their scientific collaboration quickly gives way to their natural attraction—and the two fall for one another, physically and intellectually. But Molly and Elliot’s new relationship devastates their former romantic partners, Don and Lauren, and leaves them both scrambling to understand (and reconcile) their past romantic successes and failures, lest they repeat the same mistakes with each other.
Playwright Itamar Moses.
Moses’ inspiration for Completeness came in an introductory Electrical Engineering class he took as an undergraduate humanities major. It was there that he first became intrigued by the Traveling Salesman Problem (or TSP), one of the most famous unsolved problems in all of computer science—which the character Elliot works to solve in the play. Itamar says, “I was immediately captivated by the name of the Traveling Salesman Problem, and by how simple a problem it was on its face, and how complicated, when you looked [at it] more closely.” The seemingly simple TSP—a complex idea which is elegantly explained in the play—is actually exponential and unsolvable in real, human time. Much like the intractable mysteries, Itamar suggests in the play, of modern day love. Itamar says, “I had an instinct that [this] play might have something to do with the relationship between the TSP and the problem of trying to find love.”
Moses began writing Completeness a few years later, after receiving a commission to write a play about math, science or technology from Manhattan Theatre Club and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Like many of Moses’ other plays, Completeness is intellectually compelling and structurally inventive—and steeped in the everyday humor and absurdity of modern-day romance. In the play, Itamar also experiments with meta-theatricality, breaking the fourth wall to engage the audience directly with formal dramatic games and algorithms that mirror his central thematic metaphor—that today’s romantic relationships—and partners—are just as complex and unsolvable as the famous Traveling Salesman Problem.
The world premiere of Completeness as part of the 2011 Pacific Playwrights Festival marks Moses’ second production at SCR, following our 2006 production of his intellectual comedy Bach at Leipzig. Completeness was read and developed as part of the 2010 Pacific Playwrights Festival last spring, directed by Pam MacKinnon, one of Moses’ longtime artistic collaborators. Moses and MacKinnon first worked together on a reading of his play Outrage, and she has directed the New York premieres of Bach at Leipzig (New York Theatre Workshop) and The Four of Us (Manhattan Theatre Club). MacKinnon’s recent work at SCR includes her critically acclaimed production of Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw earlier this season and the world premiere of Richard Greenberg’s My Mother’s Brief Affair in the 2009 Pacific Playwrights Festival.
Critics have called Itamar Moses a “structural acrobat” and praised his “fun, structurally clever” work (Variety). He continues to write for both theater and television, currently working as a staff writer for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Itamar relishes the opportunity to hear and develop new theatrical work in front of big audiences. When asked what excited him most about working on Completeness during the 2010 Pacific Playwrights Festival, he said, “The energy of PPF is really positive. It’s a great place to work on a play. And it was the first, and still the only, time that the play has had an audience that large, and that was a thrill to have a crowd see this story and get really invested in Elliot and Molly. Until you see that happen you never know for sure if you’re onto something or not.”
“It’s a very personal play, not in a literal sense, but in a general sense” Itamar has said, “and I’m excited to see how people respond to the issues in it. I hope it makes everybody feel a little bit less alone.” With Completeness, we think you’re in for a theatrical treat – a play that’s smart, emotionally rich and funny in its portrayal of two young scientists trying to solve the most universal of human problems—love. We hope you’ll join us to see if they find a solution.
The Artists of Completeness
As we near rehearsals for Completeness, playwright Itamar Moses is excited to continue discovering the physical rules and world of his humorously scientific and meta-theatrical play. “It’s a play” he says, “that lends itself towards a nice theatricality visually that one can only see fully realized in full production. Some of the things the play does, formally, are really really hard to envision in a reading, so I’m very interested to see if it all works the way I intended.”
Director Pam MacKinnon has assembled a stellar design team and cast for the production, including designers Chris Barreca (sets), Russell H. Champa (lights), Sara Ryung Clement (costumes) and Bray Poor (sound/composition). The cast includes veteran actors Karl Miller (Angels in America, Roadhouse Theater) as Elliot, Mandy Siegfreid (Noises Off on Broadway) as Molly, Johnathan McClain (Spinning into Butter, Lincoln Center) as Don, and Brooke Bloom (A Feminine Ending, Hamlet at SCR) as Lauren.
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