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While no plot strand in Completeness
uses its structure to help explore the ideas raised, there is one moment near the end of the 140 minute performance that acknowledges complexity. But it's so late in the production and so foreign to the rest of the play that it stands out as a bit of a Hail Mary. It's one of the most theatrical moments in the play, but it feels like the playwright struggling to counter the density of the previous two hours instead of an illuminating episode.
But I'm less interested in addressing the specific successes or failures of this production than I am in the fact that this is yet another Sloan commissioned play that is bottom-heavy with unnecessary detail, weighing down a thing that would benefit from more room to breathe and explore its subject imaginatively. I've seen enough Sloan shows to know that this is a trend that supersedes the writers, actors, and directors. And I know enough about their commissioning and development process to know that they demand a high degree of accuracy and specificity in the work they fund, which appears to be to the detriment of innovation in the handling of content and form. By generating plays that focus too much on specifics, the Foundation is countering its own aim of imparting understanding or curiosity to the audience.
I should say that Sloan has sometimes gotten it right, or at least opened themselves up a bit. Two recent productions that comes to mind are experimental theater creator Jay Scheib's piece Untitled Mars (This Title May Change)
, which played at PS122 in April 2008, and monologuist Mike Daisy's The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
. But these are both works by established artists, rather than emerging artists.
Great plays about science use imagination and metaphor and richly constructed formal structures to engage people's curiosity. In order to get that from an artist, you have to let go of forcing conclusions or discussions, and trust that the creative process is as time-honored and productive as the scientific process. Both have been around since just about the dawn of humanity, and both have contributed in significant ways to get us to where we are. Best to let the process do its work and allow that you're not going to get what you thought you were—you might get something altogether better.
(Photo: Joan Marcus)