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Brainy, Sexy "Completeness" Lives Up to Title

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By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

When: Through March 24
Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Tickets: $18-$36
Info: (773) 975-8150; www.TheaterWit.org
Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

What British playwright Tom Stoppard was for the intellectuals of the baby boomer generation, playwright Itamar Moses might very well turn out to be for the current generation of American achievers in their twenties and early thirties.

Like Stoppard, the Berkeley-bred, Brooklyn-based Moses possesses a unique gift for blending the exceedingly brainy with the knowingly sexy and neurotically chaotic. He thrives on complexity, but he also knows that if you are going to have scenes filled with substantive talk about molecular biology, algorithms and the Traveling Salesman Problem (a matter crucial to theoretical computer science), you also had better have some attractive people taking their clothes off and at least trying to get into bed with each other.

That's the all but unbeatable combination Moses finesses with such dexterity and comic self-awareness in "Completeness," arguably his best play to date. First produced in 2011 at California's South Coast Repertory, it is now receiving a knockout Chicago premiere at Theater Wit, with whip-smart direction by Jeremy Wechsler, exceptionally sophisticated performances by an ideal cast of four, and visual design that is a perfect complement for its intimacy-meets-hi-tech world view.

Elliot (Matt Holzfeind, who recently starred in the rock musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"), and Molly (Kristina Valada-Viars, a standout in Steppenwolf's "Time Stands Still"), meet cute in a university library. He is a grad student in computer science; she is working on her thesis, trying to map essential proteins. Both are far too smart for their own good, and, despite considerable sexual experience, socially and emotionally awkward. HE has an adorable girlfriend, Lauren (Rae Gray), and SHE has been having an affair with her adviser, Don (Andrew Jessop). But as is often the case, everything is in flux.

In a play whose operative metaphor just happens to be that Traveling Salesman Problem (which involves homing in on the optimal combinations that, for example, might make DNA sequencing research less of an infinite quest), the more down-to-earth notion of selecting a romantic partner is a big part of the equation.

The chemical attraction between Elliot and Molly makes their hormones move as quickly as their brain synapses. But Molly's fear of committing to Elliot is as palpable as Elliot's was with Lauren. And of course there are always other temptations.

Moses' scenes, spot-on in the way they capture insecurity, desire, the excitement of connection and the terror of what happens next, are beautifully rendered by Holzfeind and Valada-Viars. They clearly are exceptionally smart (you can't fake this dialogue), and they have one of the best sex scenes you'll see on any stage.

Gray, a "real-life" junior at the University of Chicago, is a proven talent, with a delicious mix of guilelessness and shrewdness, and she is perfection in several roles. Jessop also plays multiple roles, wide-ranging in age, and does so with panache.

Joe Schermoly's sleekly modern cabinet set, combined with Michael Stanfill's video design and Michael Rourke's lighting, contains its own rich set of variable possibilities. And even a technical malfunction at the performance I caught was handled brilliantly by all involved.

"Completeness" is the real deal.

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This page contains a single entry by Hedy Weiss published on February 23, 2013 7:06 PM.

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