Aubrey Dollar and Karl Miller in Completeness
(© Joan Marcus)
Aubrey Dollar and Karl Miller in Completeness
(© Joan Marcus)
Itamar Moses delves into the mysteries of romance in his intelligent new play Completeness, now at Playwrights Horizons under Pam McKinnon's sensitive direction.

Generally, the strange attraction that two people might have for one another is called "chemistry," but Moses uses different disciplines -- molecular biology and computer science -- to explain (or at least underscore) the complex relationship of two grad students. And while there might be some ponderous moments as the characters wax eloquent on the theories of protein-protein interaction or on the finer points of computer algorithms, the show is grounded by two enormously appealing performances by Karl Miller and Aubrey Dollar that make any of the show's languors almost inconsequential.

In this theatrical rom com, Elliot (Miller) and Molly (Dollar) meet cute at a university computer lab. He's instantly drawn to her and, eager to ingratiate himself, offers to write a computer program that will assist her in analyzing the data that she's been getting from her experiments. Before long, the two are entwined romantically -- after having extricated themselves from other relationships -- and when it looks as if they will be settling into a mutually beneficial partnership in their fields and in life, they hit some snags. Whether Moses leads these two to a happy ending, well, that's for audiences to decide.

Together, Miller and Dollar are an absolute delight: the distracted and nerdy hesitancy that he brings to his performance is the perfect complement to the ebullient geekiness that characterizes her turn. This is a couple that theatergoers will find themselves rooting for from the outset, thanks not only to the performances, but also Moses' endearing ability to allow his talkative characters to occasionally become perplexingly tongue-tied.

Equally impressive are the moments when both actors give themselves over to their characters' less attractive sides. He's particularly deft early on during Elliot's breakup scene with Lauren (the multiply cast and consistently solid Meredith Forlenza), blending just the right amount of guy stupidity into his portrayal of the otherwise intelligent Elliot. Dollar sounds some deeper and more calculated notes as she confronts her advisor Don (Brian Avers, who also handles numerous roles) about her work, and the end of their relationship.

Underneath the romance of this lighter-than-air comedy is some pretty hefty science that, astonishingly, mimics the almost by-the-book "boy meets girl, etc." scenario of the piece. Molly's description of how proteins interact in her yeast experiments is, in fact, analogous to her relationship with Elliot. When things go south for the couple, the action mirrors both what Elliot has predicted could go wrong with his algorithms and what he comes to realize is wrong with his most important one.

MacKinnon's evenly paced production unfolds with fluid ease thanks to David Zinn's flexible scenic design that evokes the sterile utilitarianism of a university setting. Russell H. Champa lights the piece with unexpected subtlety and as if the piece and performances were not already amusing enough, composer Bray Poor induces a few additional smiles as he fascinatingly incorporates the sounds of our digital life (the tapping of keyboards and the ringing of cell phones) into his original music.