Elliot and Molly are so instantly attracted to one another that they’ve barely tapped the whiskey bottle in his apartment before garments are being lobbed over shoulders.
When the action under the covers briefly freezes in Itamar Moses’ funny, ridiculously smart new play, “Completeness,” at New York’s Playwrights Horizons, Elliot naturally wonders what’s going on.
“Having sex without examining the genitals is like biting into a piece of fruit without looking at it,” Molly says with an offhand insouciance that merely heightens the lust vibe.
They’re graduate students -- he in computer science, she in molecular biology -- whose respective obsessions are algorithms and experiments involving yeast.
Both are fresh from other love affairs, Molly with her obnoxious faculty adviser (Brian Avers), Elliot with a fellow computer wonkette (Meredith Forlenza). He’s something of a self-admitted cad, though she can deflect his cloddish remarks with practiced -- perhaps too practiced -- elan.
If all the talk about thermonuclear physics and quantum theory and horticulture turned you off to the beauties of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” you may be similarly repelled here. Moses pads his love story with long nerdy speeches in a language only grad students will find electrifying.
But I haven’t seen another play recently that so perfectly captured love -- hot-blooded, fearless, fickle -- at this stage in life. Nor have I been so moved by that thing that happens when two people find they’ve fallen more deeply than they bargained for, and it scares the jargon out of them. Elliot and Molly are as articulate on matters of the heart as they are on brainier subjects.
Played by two utterly charming actors, wiry Karl Miller and delicate Aubrey Dollar, and directed by Pam MacKinnon with respect for letting things unfold in the most natural-seeming way, Elliot and Molly won me over. So did Moses, even though he indulges in a jarring bit of silliness in the second act that, in lesser hands, might have derailed the evening. Fortunately, it didn’t, and I was left with nothing but admiration.
Through Sept. 25 at 416 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://www.playwrightshorizons.org Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Good * So-So (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)